“While having lunch at the Knights of Columbus BBQ after Saturday's parade, with Kimberly, I noticed a Lincoln icon sitting alone, in his motorized wheelchair, at the end of a table. He was struggling a bit while cutting up his chicken, so I decided to speak with him and offer some assistance. As I approached former Lincoln police officer Harold Woodard and introduced myself, he smiled and said that he remembered me. We talked at length... After a while I did manage to ask if I could help him by cutting up his chicken for him, not really knowing how a proud man like Harold might respond. He looked at me with caring eyes and said sincerely and with a little surprise, ‘I would really appreciate that’. It made my day to spend a few minutes with a local icon with such integrity and character. The world could use a few more Harold Woodards.”I’m not acquainted with Mr. Woodard, but he seems like a first-class individual. This blog post, however, isn’t about him. It’s about wheelchair users in social situations, and how well Andrew handled it.
Please consider this blog post as the memo.
What are the social and psychological reasons that people avoid approaching wheelchair users? I could spend a series of posts delving into this phenomena. Some reasons are: a fear of saying the wrong thing, a perception that wheelchair users are bitter and don’t want to socialize, uncertainty about whether to stand or sit when speaking to a wheelchair user, and fear that the wheelchair user will resent offers of help. Because of these and other barriers, many people are subconsciously disinclined to walk up to us, like Andy did with Mr. Woodard, to ask if we need any help and to strike up a conversation.
Mr. Woodard’s visit wasn’t the first time Andrew behaved admirably in this type of situation. Andrew and I were both attending a Fourth of July party this year at our friends Tim and Lynn’s house (Lynn, is it okay to call it Tim and Lynn’s house now?). In the normal comings and goings at a gathering with twenty people or so, some of whom know each other very well and others of whom are mere acquaintances, I found myself sitting alone for a moment. Andy sensed that and plopped himself on the barstool in front of me, asked me if I needed any help, and engaged me in conversation for ten minutes.
My momentary solitude at that party was not a big deal. It hadn’t gone on long enough that I felt lonely or conspicuous. But Andy took note of it, and took action. The next time you’re at a large gathering and there is a wheelchair user present, remember to treat the individual like a receiving line of one. But do more than shake hands and move along. Strike up a conversation. I guarantee you’ll both benefit from it.
“The world could use a few more Harold Woodards.” I don’t doubt that. But I would add this: the world could use a few more Andrew McLaughlin’s too.