On Saturday night Kim and I went out to dinner with our friends Deb and Steve at the Snow Squall, a local bar and restaurant that we absolutely love. I made reservations for their dining room, as opposed to the pub section where I usually sit. This would require me to descend about four steps in my iBot wheelchair.
In years past I was able to climb stairs myself in the iBot, but I no longer have enough strength and dexterity in my arms. I require Kim’s assistance. We arrived at the Snow squall at six o’clock, and the crowd was thin. Kim guided me down the stairs without incident, and we settled in for a leisurely meal.
Throughout the dinner, more patrons arrived, and soon it was a full house. We finished an outstanding meal (Chef Heather cooks no other type), settled the checks, and prepared to ascend the stairs. Allow me to describe the scene, as I imagine it from the perspective of a random patron who dared to watch:
A dashing gentleman in a power wheelchair backs up against the bottom step. A woman, presumably his much younger wife (is he rich?), strikes an athletic pose behind him, one foot on the first step and the other foot on the second. The gentleman manipulates buttons and knobs on his wheelchair controller such that the seat rises a bit and then tilts to the rear. His wife grabs onto the top of his backrest and pulls. Some motor within the wheelchair engages and boosts the front wheels up and over the rear wheels, and the chair is one step higher. This process continues until the chair, its occupant, and its navigator are at the top of the steps, at which time the gentleman pushes more buttons and knobs, and the chair transforms back to normal. Their demeanor throughout the operation is nonchalant. Apparently, this is part of their routine – how they navigate through a disabled-unfriendly world.
In our society, it is paramount that we not offend others, especially people who are disadvantaged. And we are on our best manners when we dine at an establishment where the meals cost more than $15. Most of the patrons were probably concerned that watching me climb the stairs would be offensive to me or would constitute an invasion of my privacy. Maybe they thought I hated being seen this way – that I already felt conspicuous enough, and their staring would only make me feel worse. Maybe they didn’t know what they thought, but it just felt wrong to look. Whatever the reason, most of these people either completely ignored me, or they only snuck a peek here and there. What a shame. What a missed opportunity! What a gross over-application of the duty to not offend.
The fact is that I absolutely love to have people watch me climb stairs. I’m an iBot exhibitionist. I get off by demonstrating how technologically advanced my iBot is, how talented my wife is, and how cool I am about the entire process. But these people had no way of knowing this. How could they?
Maybe the responsibility falls squarely on me to let the potential audience know that they are more than welcome to gawk at us, engage us in conversation about it, and applaud enthusiastically at the conclusion of the show. The question becomes, then, how do I convey this message.
In a perfect world, devoid of unnecessary human insecurities and burdensome social constructs, this would be appropriate behavior. But, frankly, I don’t know if I have the cahones. What if everyone ignored me and just continued dining? What if I came off as needy and insecure? What if, what if, what if? No, I think I’ll forgo the opportunity to be an agent for social change, and just keep doing my thing without drawing attention to myself. It’s just too risky.
Note: For those of you who have not seen the iBot in action, click here for a video of us in Jamaica last year, or watch below.