Every so often, someone comments to me that my work must be harrowing and disheartening. After all, wheelchairs signify the inevitable fact that anyone who needs one has a profound disability, stemming from birth or resulting from a life-changing injury, disease, or illness – that is, exclusively resulting from tragedy, as many would label such circumstances.
Surely, I encounter very difficult life stories everyday, where a wheelchair is a manifestation of a circumstance – disability – that no one wishes to experience or witness upon someone else. It’s impossible to learn the stories that I’ve learned over the years, and not have disheartening moments, from mothers paralyzed by drunk drivers, to children with head injuries caused by parental abuse, to medical doctors ravaged by the very diseases that they specialized in toward hopefully curing others. As a thinking, feeling person, I certainly can’t view these circumstances without a sense of empathy and despair, wondering how good people are taken down such bleak paths?
Yet, among the bleakest paths in life do lead to me and others in the wheelchair industry – or, more literally, a wheelchair – and, from my perspective, it’s at that juncture where an unexpected twist occurs in the road, an unforeseen but promising destination.
Still, the road leading to that destination isn’t a direct route. No one intrinsically wants to have to rely on a wheelchair for mobility. At best, a wheelchair is a device that many learn to value as needed in their lives; and, at worst, it’s a device that’s forever resented by some. However, the reality is, our emotional outlooks truly don’t reflect the inherent nature of a wheelchair when it appears on our horizons: A wheelchair is among the purest forms of liberation that ever enters our lives.
Indeed, we can bring all kinds of emotional and mental baggage to our wheelchairs, lamenting about what we used to be able to do, what we’ve lost, and how we’ve lost it. Yet, very little of it has anything to do with a wheelchair, itself. It’s at this point where my inspiration and passion for wheelchairs defines itself. A wheelchair doesn’t care where you’ve been or why you’re here – it just wants to move you forward in life. From the moment you sit in a wheelchair, its sole purpose is to mobilize you – that’s a powerful, irreplaceable tool.
When I work with those needing wheelchairs, many of their stories are profound. However, as much as I recognize and empathize with the struggles many face, I simply cannot view anyone’s receiving a wheelchair as anything but among the most positive events that he or she will ever experience – I know from my own life that a wheelchair will open up his or her world, even during among the most restrictive times in life.
Now, it’s an especial pleasure whenever a particular user shares my enthusiasm toward his or her new wheelchair, but it’s understandable when others do not. Some users will tell me for as long as they live that receiving a wheelchair was the worst day of their lives. And, many users have outlooks in-between, shifting over time from a view of resentment, to one of value toward their wheelchairs. Nevertheless, no matter what one’s outlook, I am like the wheelchair, itself, merely glad to assist toward enhanced mobility, where I’m most often as thrilled by the process as if receiving my own wheelchair, inspired by the fact that I know how a wheelchair unconditionally changes every person’s life for the better. From rolling across one’s home, to across a graduation stage, a wheelchair always fosters liberation – and it’s a privilege to witness the process.
In this way, the disheartening stories of disabilities that I hear inevitably take a sidebar to among my most passionate, inspired life truths: A wheelchair isn’t about what’s lost; it’s about what’s gained.