I have a friend that found himself short of breath and cramping painfully in the chest and left arm. They rushed him into the hospital, then found the best specialist in the particular heart condition that he discovered he had. This specialist was states away, and as a precaution the airlines and doctors insisted that he use a wheelchair to and from the airport.

Most people, including my friend, don’t think of wheelchair use as a constant condition. It doesn’t just come and go like poison ivy, it doesn’t heal like a broken toe or regenerate like an alligator’s tail. The damage is done. Except in precautionary cases, like my friend, who was directed by his doctor. He would surely walk again. But on that trip through the airport in New York, he got a taste of what I see almost every day.

People naturally avert their eyes. I make them uncomfortable the closer I get. I’ve seen people literally cross the street to avoid walking close to me…as if I were horribly deformed or a panhandler. I’m obviously neither of those things.

My friend saw this immediately in that airport. People don’t want to engage in conversation, smile, offer small talk, “how’s it going?” – you become invisible. I would go so far as to say I could roll around buck naked and people wouldn’t even notice.  Don’t worry, I’m not actually going to be the first paraplegic streaker, just illustrating my point.

The next time you see someone in a wheelchair, don’t assume there is anything “wrong” with them. Their legs don’t work, but their personalities and sense of humor and capacity for love and companionship are their super powers.

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