Here is a picture of the sundeck on the roof of my building before I stained it.
Pictured above are the before and after of my sundeck that I recently finished staining. I had been wanting to stain this deck for quite some time, not only because it was desperately in need of attention but also because I wanted to set a goal I knew was attainable and carry it through to its completion.
It is peculiar how when you are a wheelchair user, that people get their own perception of what you are capable of doing. I recently finished reading a book, a fictitious novel about a gay man in a wheelchair. One of the many things I liked about this book was how the author was able to convey the inner most feelings his main character had, and how he himself felt about being in a wheelchair.
I found many similarities between this character, who was named Bruce and myself. The book describes how many people cannot see past the wheelchair and realize that it is a human being in the chair who has the same needs, desires, hopes and dreams as anyone else. I have noticed in my own experience that people treat you differently, sometimes it is the helpless approach and sometimes it is to ignore you, as if you were invisible.
I remember when I approached the president of the condo board here about my proposal to stain the roof deck of my building, he seemed to be taken aback, if even just a little. He asked me if I were capable of doing such a large job. I reminded him that before I was in a wheelchair that I had been a decorative painter for many years. I ended up turning it into a joke of sorts, asking him, "who is closer to the ground than me?" I assured him I was quite capable of staining a deck and that those areas which I could not reach, like the back side of the railings, I would enlist a friend of mine to help.
Without tooting my own horn too much, I think I have already surprised a lot of people with what I am still able to accomplish. For example, as I have mentioned in earlier posts, I am the treasurer of the condo board here and this year I have demonstrated just how much responsibility, physical and mental endurance I still possess.
Another subtle difference I have noticed is that people who knew me before I found myself in a wheelchair and those who have only known me this way, as a wheelchair user, treat me differently. I do not expect a non-wheelchair person to completely grasp what I am trying to say but there is a slightly and in some cases more than just slightly different way in which I am treated. When I use the word I it means all wheelchair users not just me in particular.
At first I thought that perhaps it was my imagination that was prompting these suspicions about the way I or we are treated individually and as a group. My suspicions were confirmed by the character in this book I mentioned earlier, who spoke of being treated as inferior because he can no longer walk of his own accord. Sometimes able bodied people inadvertently treat wheelchair persons as second class citizens forgetting that, but by a twist of fate, they themselves could find him or herself in the same predicament.
If you are new to this whole wheelchair thing, be prepared to be treated differently. When I write all of this I am not saying everyone who is able bodied treats those who are not with disdain or contempt but that there exists subtle differences that are discernable over time.
The main focus of persons who live their lives in wheelchairs is to remember that we are still the same person we always were and more importantly still able to accomplish great feats despite other person's feelings to the contrary. When I set out with my proposal to stain the sundeck, I knew I was capable of doing just that, perhaps not as quickly as an able bodied person may have, but nonetheless quite proficient at completing the task.
When we set a goal for ourselves we must bear in mind that we are setting this goal as a means of accomplishing something we want for ourselves and not trying to prove something to someone else. There is nothing wrong with setting out to prove something to ourselves but there is something fundamentally wrong with trying to prove something to someone else.
What was really cool about this whole deck staining thing was that I completed the task, made some money, and perhaps in the interim educated someone else about just what a wheelchair person can really do. In my book that is a win, win win.
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