HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wheelchair Freedom

An editorial in today's Washington Post discusses the author's years in a wheelchair and the freedom it has provided him.  Gary Presley writes,

Images This month I began my 50th year of riding a wheelchair through life. In case you're wondering, everything is all right down here.  That's what I found myself thinking recently as I sailed through a shopping mall. "Look, Mikey! It's magic!" a tiny girl exclaimed to an even tinier boy as she spotted me. It was a reminder that most of the creatures I greet at eye level are either small children or large dogs, two of the better examples of God's work.

What that little girl believed about my power wheelchair was true for her and true for me. It is a magical thing. This one, my seventh, I call Little Red. She is a sturdy tool, very different from the fragile roll-about I came home with from the rehabilitation center five decades ago, having been left nearly quadriplegic by polio. Little Red is 10 years old, chipped and nicked and bent, but so powerful, so reliable, that the phrase "confined to a wheelchair" is not only demeaning but inaccurate. The wheelchair is freedom. . . .

Yes, everything is all right down here, "boob-high to the world," as my wife calls the place I occupy. Of course, like almost everyone else, I ache in spots I didn't 20 or 30 years ago, and I'm always a little short of money. But I have no reason to complain. I find the world growing a little friendlier each day. Architects and builders are talking about universal design, a concept that could turn a visit to a friend's house into something other than a ramp-toting expedition. President Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act, which clarifies and broadens the definition of disability to better protect people with disabilities from employment discrimination. We're making headway in corporate America, in entertainment and in politics: more visible and accepted, a few more of us productively employed. . . .

And like other people who have evolved from being "an invalid confined to a wheelchair" to a man advocating for such important issues as MiCASSA (the Medicaid Community-Based Attendant Services and Supports Act), as I have done for the past 10 years, I cannot forget that people with disabilities are among the last awaiting full integration into society.

I am one of a group once segregated by circumstance. That's the significance of my story: that people with disabilities have made great progress in the last generation, and even though there's much left to do, especially in the realm of employment, things continue to change for the better.

But for me, rest assured: Everything is all right down here.

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