Today, I spent the day in a wheelchair. And at the end of the school day, I got up out of the chair and returned to my normal walking life.
I’m lucky. I’m grateful. I’m ashamed.
Two of my colleagues have an awesome son who is wheelchair bound and has been the beneficiary of a Magic Wheelchair, which is an epic wheelchair costume. Because of that experience, together they came up with the idea to raise awareness and funds for people with disabilities by having five teachers on five different days spend the day in a wheelchair.
There were unexpected obstacles (SO many doors in my school and who knew the aisle in the auditorium is so steep), but kids I didn’t even know went out of their way to help me. People donated generously to the fundraising bucket on the back of my chair. My students were more than gracious in both their attempts to help me navigate around the building and in their sincere questions about how my experience was going.
However, no answer I could them give seemed to do justice to the guilt I was feeling.
I rolled out of my classroom into the lobby and saw a man in a wheelchair. I can’t remember ever seeing a man in a wheelchair in my school, so you can imagine my surprise at the coincidence. As embarrassed as I was that I was an able-bodied person casually wheeling around, I decided to just go over and introduced myself. We had a great conversation about the logistics of maneuvering around a walking person’s world, the public attention that goes along with being in a wheelchair, the mistaken attributes of having a disability (e.g., don’t talk loudly at people in wheelchairs), and about being vulnerable.
As the bell rang, we wrapped up our conversation lamenting the crapshoot that is life.
Did I anticipate facing challenges today? You betcha. Did I anticipate that my students and colleagues would be amazingly helpful? Yes, of course. Did I anticipate struggling so much with what my big takeaway would be? Nope. I didn’t think it would be so hard to make sense of today.
But I’m realizing that it’s this: I’m ashamed to admit that I take for granted the health and mobility that I enjoy.
So, I will seek ways to put myself in more uncomfortable situations more often. I am changed by my experience. Empathy informs actions. And as a step towards making this experience have a positive outcome, I write this post as a means of encouraging you to put yourself in someone’s else shoes (or wheels, or environment, or…)