By Mark E. Smith
We’re heading toward the end of another school year, and college graduates across this great country are asking themselves the same question: I have my degree – now what do I do?
For some graduates, it’s a question of not knowing where to start on their career path, while others may know precisely what they want to achieve, needing to merely choose from several terrific opportunities. All graduates, however, share a common position at the moment of graduation: They possess the tools and promise needed to achieve a remarkable future if they pursue it.
Wheelchairs, likewise, serve as empowered tools of promise in our lives. A wheelchair acts as a key that can unlock one’s future, a vehicle that gives one access to opportunity, a rolling degree of sorts that affords one the ability to achieve a remarkable future if one wishes to pursue it.
And, yet, it forever amazes me that more people don’t realize the promise that their wheelchairs offer, that some choose to view their wheelchairs as reasons why they can’t pursue many aspects of life:
“I’m not even bothering to look for a job because I know that no one will hire someone who uses a wheelchair like me.”
“I could never join the church choir – my wheelchair would make me stick out too much.”
“I couldn’t imagine being a parent – I could never handle a baby from my wheelchair.”
These are the thoughts that some have. And, here’s a reality check: Such negative outlooks toward using a wheelchair are not only self-serving – after all, if one follows such thinking, one never has to make any effort in life – but, they’re also entirely self-defeating, preventing any opportunities for success.
What some don’t realize is that a wheelchair actually removes many of our limitations – and, ultimately, excuses – making us increasingly accountable for our successes and failures. And, that’s an empowering realization, in that a wheelchair fosters an undeniable sense of self-determination in our lives, that if we can dream it – and are willing to apply ourselves – our wheelchairs are prepared to take us as far as we seek.
Truly, a wheelchair remarkably removes the foremost obstacle in our life – the lack of mobility – granting us an incredible level of opportunity for our taking in education, employment, community involvement, and relationships. But, like a graduate with a degree, it’s up to us to make the most of our wheelchairs, to answer the question, what will I do with it?
Sure, despite the opportunity that our wheelchairs create, there are still other obstacles in our lives. For example, social stigmas remain, where some will put up road blocks for us based on their own skewed, negative perceptions about wheelchairs and disability. Yet, a wheelchair even goes as far as freeing us from many of those seeming limitations, as well, by allowing us to continually seek new opportunities when others don’t workout.
And, that’s the astounding nature of a wheelchair: It allows us to consistently seek new opportunities, to literally roll up to doors and knock. And, if someone closes the door on us – and some will, no matter our qualifications or tact – that same wheelchair will take us to fifty more doors, finding those that open. In this way, a wheelchair is an amazing tool of promise and opportunity, one that should inspire us to rid our excuses, push our boundaries, and grow our lives, propelling us full-speed toward education, employment, community involvement, and relationships.
I’m reminded of a conversation that I had after I spoke at a conference recently, where a young woman came up to me and explained that, in using her wheelchair, she’d never have such courage to roll onto stage, that she was inspired not only by the messages of my talk, but by my confidence to simply get up in front of 300 people and perform.
With a mischievous smile, I teased her that I had no intention of giving the keynote address that day, but that I was simply in the habit of following wheelchair ramps – and when I followed the ramp located on the left of the banquet room, I unwittingly landed on stage, with no choice but to just start talking!
In actuality, there’s a lot of truth to that tale, where I do believe in simply pursuing the ramps – read that, opportunities – placed before me. If my wheelchair will get me there, I believe that I have an obligation to myself, my family, and my community to live up to the promise that it presents, following my opportunities as far as I can – that is, my wheelchair removes many reasons and excuses why I shouldn’t pursue making a difference in the world to my fullest potential.
I know, contrary to my view, it’s a lot easier to look at our wheelchairs as reasons why we can’t succeed. In fact, it takes no effort at all. What’s more, we can even find support for such a self-defeating position, where if we tell people that we are disabled, that we use a wheelchair, many will buy into outdated cultural stereotypes about those with disabilities, allowing us to use our wheelchairs as 1,001 reasons why we can’t do this or that, why we can’t succeed. Indeed, doing little with our wheelchairs – with our lives – is so easy to justify.
But, the minute that we solve the equation properly, understanding that a wheelchair isn’t a variable, but a solution, we begin succeeding in the course of life. Like a college degree, our wheelchairs then become tools of empowerment and promises, allowing us to approach doors of opportunity, where it’s solely up to us to decide whether we’re willing to apply the desire, courage, and tenacity to knock on them. And, it’s when we make the choice – the commitment – to go as far as our wheelchairs will take us, even when we have to stretch our comfort zones and capabilities, that we find remarkable successes in life.
In this way, every morning, when I awake, I glance to my right, consciously noting that my power wheelchair is sitting beside my bed. And, that glance at my power wheelchair is my affirmation that, with the new day, I have the ability to follow my opportunities without excuses, where success isn’t limited by my disability, but pursued by my will.
No, my life with disability isn’t easy, and neither is yours – there are factors everyday that knock us down and slow us down. However, if we’re to be successful, we must understand that using wheelchair isn’t one of those limiting factors, that a wheelchair simply, faithfully moves us forward.
When you awake tomorrow morning, glance over at your wheelchair, realizing that it removes many reasons and excuses from your life as to why you can’t achieve greater success, and make the commitment to live up to its promise and opportunity by getting out in the world, pushing your boundaries, growing your life, propelling forward to make more of a difference in the lives of those around you. After all, your wheelchair will allow you to take your life as far as you wish, turning excuses into determination, and dreams into achievements – that is, your wheelchair proves your truest partner for success.