For over two years I’ve been perpetrating a fraud by posing as a full-time wheelchair user. It’s a big, fat lie, and I need to come clean. Since July of 2008 I've been an iBot user, but only in the past couple of weeks have I actually become a wheelchair user, and then only part-time.
If you read my posts (here first, then here) about how I was almost scammed as I shopped for a power wheelchair recently, you know that I've been looking for a backup for my iBot. About two weeks ago my new Invacare Pronto M51 was delivered, and I've been using it frequently around the house in order to save wear and tear and battery life on my iBot. As you may know, the iBot won’t be around forever (click here for an explanation). Just yesterday, for the first time, I decided to venture outside of my house in the M51- a real wheelchair. Yikes.
I expect that when most people "come out" in public for the first time in a wheelchair, it is a traumatic experience. And I expect that the primary reason for said trauma is that many people regard wheelchair users with either apathy or pity. They literally and figuratively look down on us, no doubt comforting themselves with thoughts like, "I'm glad that's not me."
But I didn't go through that ordeal in July of 2008. I didn't go out in public in a wheelchair. I went in an iBot, and that's quite a different thing.
Whenever I operate my iBot in public, I try to do so in balance mode (depicted at left), for several reasons. First, it's practical. Communicating with people eye to eye makes sense. But mostly I operate in balance mode for non-practical reasons. When I’m zipping around on two wheels people don’t look at me with pity. In fact, in an implausible twist of fate, they sometimes look at me with envy. I realize they don’t want to be disabled, but they appreciate that they’re in the presence of a cutting edge device, and I’m the pilot. As my friend Max Burt pointed out to me, when you are in balance mode in an iBot it gives you personality. You are doing more than just getting around. You're getting around in style. This is not a frivolous consideration. Projecting a little personality is good for the soul.
But back to my other wheelchair…yesterday my son was scheduled for day surgery at a local hospital. My wife was working, so I volunteered to accompany Zach. The batteries on my iBot were running a little low, so I decided to venture out into the cold, cruel world in a mere wheelchair, rather than in my iBot. I was finally going to stop faking it. I was going to be a real wheelchair user for once.
So how did it go? I had mixed results. Since I was usually sitting in a waiting room or sitting by my son’s bed, there really wasn't a lot of opportunity to be in balance mode anyway. There were no surprise stairs to climb or curbs to navigate- no beaches either. I was just another cripple zipping around an accessible hospital in a wheelchair, not projecting my usual personality, and not attracting comments every five minutes.
The only functional shortcoming of my wheelchair was evident in the cafeteria. I was sitting too low to get a good look at the food being offering at the buffet, and so I ended up with a rather horrible cashew chicken dish. In order to wash away the taste, I decided to go back and get some dessert. I couldn't reach the handle on the soft serve ice cream dispenser, so I had to ask a gentleman to help me out. I didn’t particularly like asking for help, but, well, the ice cream washed away both bad tastes.
My first public wheelchair experience wasn't too bad, but I think I'll stick with my iBot in the future. I’m just not the same without it.