Geek on Wheels ponders…confinement

I’m probably cursing it, but it appears, just maybe, that spring has finally arrived, up here in Toronto.It almost got into the double PLUS digits today and we’re down to only the biggest piles of snowplowed hills left. Hell, I even heard some birds earlier this week…they driving our Chinese Sharpei, Toby, nuts! With the onset of spring, we wheeled ones can finally start to look past our winter confinement…but that really isn’t the type of confinement I’m thinking of tonight.

A few weeks back, my partner Arthur sent me an article looking at the idea of some new cybernetic leg units that might one day help those of us with SCI’s to walk again. It’s an interesting concept that the sci-fi geek in me loves…but there was a term used in the article that struck me.

“it would help those confined to a wheelchair.”

Now, realize something here. I don’t usually worry about politically correct terms. I also know the media in general tends to overuse its metaphors and catchphrases and clichés for the sake of keeping things simple when they are on a deadline. This really got me thinking though.

The one place I DON’T feel confined is when I am in my wheelchair. Ever.

When I’m having to use my walker, and stumble along carefully to my car, off-balance, watching each step. When I’m having to use more upper body than lower body to climb four stairs. When I’m having to bum my way down stairs into my own basement. THAT is when I feel confined. (granted seeing my nephew Liam learning to walk down stairs and looking better at it than I have in years just makes me laugh)

My wheelchair is not confinement in any sense. In my chair, I’m quick. I’m agile. I can turn on a dime, make skid turns when at a good speed, use walls to help me take corners faster and dammit when the zombie apocalypse comes (oh come on, just go with it), just you remember something. You may have two good legs to run…but I’ve got four good wheels to roll on.

Are there limits to it? Of course. Stairs. Stairs. Stairs. The bane of all of us on wheels. Even then I damn well intend to get skilled at going down them at least. Heights? Well, thankfully, even sitting I’m still 6’2″. That makes me a very tall sitting man. While it’s better that I ask for help when stuff is too high, I can find a way. I make it work. Period.

The cliché of people with spinal cord injuries being confined to a wheelchair is another one of those things I never thought of before it happened to me. I’d be willing to bet, though, that just about anyone in a chair…manual or powered…doesn’t see their chair as their confinement.

It is our transport. Our tools. Our freedom to live our lives. It is NOT confinement.

Do I wish I could still bound up my stairs 3 at a time, like I could just 3 years ago? Of course I do. That isn’t reality, however. An individual can choose to see a wheelchair as something confining if they want to let it define them. The media though, needs to stop using that cliché to define all of us who use chairs in our daily lives.

I can still hope for those biomechanical legs…or even better the nerve regrowth that was recently linked to me as well. I won’t let waiting on it confine me though.

Now if we can just get ourselves caught up to our southern neighbours when it comes to being truly accessible. Tell you what oh USA…we’ll lend you the lessons of healthcare for the masses, if you’ll do the same with accessibility for the masses.




4 thoughts on “Geek on Wheels ponders…confinement

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  1. Jason, awesome article as usual. Just a question, if only to get a discussion going… if you had written the article, what words would you have used instead? I ask because I wonder if the original author used the word “confined” as a direct contrast to the “liberating” impact biomechanical legs could have on a person with a SCI, and not necessarily as a straight judgment of what it’s like to use a wheelchair. I am loath to admit it, but I can imagine myself using the same poor choice of words in my own writing without thinking about it, and I’d like to learn how to avoid making that mistake. I CAN be sensitive, ya know 🙂

  2. Thanks Kim and that’s a question I admit I’ve struggled with and a good one to debate. What is the right term to use? I’ve awkwardly called it my wheeled life, but it really is an awkward term. I’m as guilty as anyone of using the “confined to a wheelchair” term as anyone before all this hit. It is possible that the author was trying to contrast the two conditions, but I don’t recall it being framed that way. I really need to find the actual article to refer back, but to me it just came off as a casually easy way to refer to how a person with an SCI lives.

    It’s not the most egregious use of over-simplified terms…that award goes annually to sports writers without pause.

    As to the term…I am sticking with wheeled…until I hear or come up with something better. It doesn’t really matter how one does refer to it as long as they realize that life with an SCI doesn’t have to mean confinement. Yes, that’s a bit of a copout I know.

    And you CAN be sensitive Kim…even occasionally to me! 😛

  3. Just to add some humor (I hope)to the conversation, if a bunch of zombies does catch Jason and eat him does that make him meals on wheels? or just a bunch of hard nuts to swallow?

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