We know that kids are classic when it to asking questions about disability. Yet, when it comes to wheelchair use, I’ve observed that children are less inquisitive and less concerned these days toward those who use wheelchairs than they used to be – namely, I suppose, because if you watch the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, or Sesame Street, or read grade-school text books, children with disabilities are prevalent as a trend toward overall diversity representation.
Nevertheless, the other evening, I came across one of the few kids in America who’s apparently never seen a wheelchair – ironically, just a few blocks from the company that I work for manufacturing wheelchairs, a fixture in our town.
“What’s that?” the chubby 10-year-old, or so, boy with round, wire-rim glasses asked, pointing at my wheelchair as we both waited at the corner to cross the street.
“A wheelchair,” I said, looking at the red lit don’t-cross sign.
“What’s it for?” he asked.
“I can’t walk, so I use this,” I said, looking him in the eyes, smiling.
“Why can’t you walk?” he asked, motionless, simply staring back at me in the eyes.
“My legs don’t work right,” I said, giving a simple, quick answer, waiting for the light to change, knowing not to get into a complex discussion with the Twenty-Question Kid about cerebral palsy.
“Are they made out of rubber?” he asked, arms at his side, his eyes still locked on mine.
“What?” I asked, unsure if I had heard him correctly, unsure we were still on the same subject.
“Your legs,” he said, “are they made out of rubber?”
I’ve heard a lot of crazy sentiments come out of the mouths of children, but none have ever asked if my legs are made from rubber. I’m a fairly quick wit, but his question was so unexpected and imaginative, I was speechless, impressed by his originality. This crazy kid was raising the bar on our street-corner conversation, to where he had me stumped. I smirked, looked at the light to see if it was still red, then I composed myself, forming my comeback.
“Not rubber,” I said. “They’re made out of polyvinyl chloride.”
“Oh,” he said, still staring me in the eyes. “What’s that?”
“PVC plumbing pipe,” I replied.
“Oh,” he said.
I looked at the light, noting it was now green.
“Time to cross,” I said, rolling into the crosswalk, looking over my shoulder, seeing him just standing there on the corner, motionless, watching me leave.