A Deeper Appreciation for the Disabled

I have been incapacitated in various degrees for nearly six weeks now because of this broken foot. For the first four weeks, I was completely unable to put any weight on it and had to hop everywhere I went, using a walker to assist me. Getting up and going to the bathroom in the middle of the night was a nightmare. Even though I am doing a little bit of walking now, I still have to go up and down the stairs on the seat of my pants, and my husband, George, puts me in the wheelchair if we go to the store or anywhere that necessitates me having to walk more than a meager amount. This experience has given me a completely new appreciation for people who are permanently or much more seriously disabled.

Very few restaurants or stores, even those who say they are wheelchair accessible, have doors that open automatically. If no one is around to hold the door, George has to try to hold the door open while pushing me through it. I end up having to help him hold it so it won’t smack one of us. What if I didn’t have George, or what if I didn’t have the use of my arms?

When we were in Asheville, North Carolina, a few weeks ago with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, I could only see half of the Biltmore Estate because two floors were not wheelchair accessible. There were also shops I couldn’t go into because they were too crowded and packed with fragile items to make it possible for me to negotiate the narrow passageways. I sat outside while my family went in without me. When we went to the Cherokee museum. George pushed me in the wheelchair so I could see the exhibits, but the signs were too high for me to read them comfortably. I tried, but looking up at that angle quickly made my neck sore, and I finally gave up. When I needed to use the restroom, George pushed me over to the door and helped me up so I could use the walker to hop in. But when I tried to leave the restroom, I found I couldn’t open the door and continue to hold on to the walker. I had to bang on the door until George heard me and opened the door for me. And one added note on restrooms. Every single public restroom I used, whether it was at the museum, in a restaurant, at the Biltmore Estate, or at the welcome center on the state highway, had the handicapped stall located the farthest from the restroom door. And these places are supposed to be handicapped friendly?

So here’s the thing. I’m not writing this because I want you to feel sorry for me. In a few months time, I expect to be back to my old self, able to take walks again unaided, able to take care of myself without help from anyone. But many people are not as fortunate. Their disabilities are not going to go away. It is their life. Do you have any idea how many of our young men and women have been horribly injured in these terrible wars? I don’t know the number, but I know it is so high, it is staggering. And our communities are not easy places for them to navigate.

I don’t have any real point except to say their plight has become more real to me. I tasted only a tiny portion of what they have to eat every day. When I see them now, they won’t be invisible, and I will give them more than a passing thought. They will be in my thoughts and on my heart in a more personal way.

About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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46 Responses to A Deeper Appreciation for the Disabled

  1. pattisj says:

    I often wonder about some of those “accessible” things. You’ve proven the point.

  2. shofar says:

    You’re a tough woman! Trying to get up stairs is a major challenge. I remember when I had knee surgery and returned to work on crutches. I could not handle the stairs to my classroom on the second floor and had to stay home two additional weeks until my knee brace came off! BTW, I apologize. I just saw a comment from you and neglected to reply! And I don’t know how to do Face Time. I’ll ask my sister to show me how it works; she talks to her grand children long distance on FT.

    • Coming East says:

      Teaching after knee surgery must have been really tough, Shofar, because if you are anything like I was as a teacher, you never sit down. I’m hoping I only have a few more weeks of this, but we’ll see.

  3. Huffygirl says:

    Amen to everything you’ve said Susan. I’ve often thought that the so-called handicapped accessible facilities are not really accessable to those in wheel chairs. To be truly accessible, there has to be the capability that a person in a wheel chair can manuever them without assistance – including opening the doors. If a bathroom stall is not large enough for someone to wheel in, transfer from chair to toilet and wheel out all unassisted, it is not truly accessible. The people who design these need to spend some time in the wheelchairs. I think a lot of handicapped accessible stuff is just put in at the minimum so the facility can check that off the list, but not really meet the requirements to make it truly accessible.

    Although, on the bright side, good practice for you for when you’re really, really old!

  4. What a touching post! It takes an experience like yours to be really empathic and feel what a disabled person truly does. I guess that’s the silver lining of it, to change you for the better.

  5. And you never got to sample the joys of public transport in your wheelchair! Wheelchair-life requires a sense of humour, ridiculous amounts of determination and a good sense of adventure in my experience. Actually if you’re in a wheelchair, for the time being you need to experience cobbles. So much fun for the person seated and the person pushing! 😉

    • Coming East says:

      Oh, believe me, I experienced those cobbles, Eye. Rattled my teeth good. I did have a sense of humor about my situation, especially going up and down those steps in North Carolina, but I know I won’t have to do it much longer. It’s people that have to do it for the rest of their lives I feel bad for.

  6. It sometimes takes firsthand knowledge of something for us to open our eyes and see the world how others experience it. I can imagine how frustrated you must have felt. And having to sit and wait because you couldn’t go up those flights of stairs. My closest friend was born with cerebral palsy and has used a walker or crutches most of her adulthood. Even using ramps is sometimes a huge pain for her as her hands and arms aren’t very coordinated. I see what she struggles with day to day but she never makes an issues out of it, she just powers on through.

    • Coming East says:

      It’s exhausting to live like that, Darla, so anything that can be done to make life easier for people who struggle every day needs to be done. We have a tremendous number of disabled veterans now because of these wars, so our communities should take a look at how accessible they are. Thanks for your comment.

  7. You are so right. My dad has been wheelchair bound for several years… handicapped accessible is almost a joke. Everything you mentioned in your blog is true. Things are better than they were 40 years ago, but still have a long way to go.

    • Coming East says:

      I can only imagine how difficult things before we had the Americans with Disabilities Act, Life. You see by your father’s experiences that we need to do more.

  8. Amy says:

    It’s a tremendous struggle when you have to depend on someone to make a move even to a rest room. Your post reminds us that we need to be more thoughtful and helpful to the disabled people as a citizen. Thank you, Susan!

  9. Lenore Diane says:

    Walk a mile in one’s shoes is not a saying for nothing. Our perspective changes on many things, once we see it from – well, from a different perspective. Great post!

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  12. Al says:

    Having seen first hand how difficult it is for you we can really appreciate this post. George has been a real trooper for sure. And your point is well taken about the permanently disabled. With all the advancements, there’s still far to go.

  13. dorannrule says:

    I have been in a cast twice in my life and each time noted how difficult maneuvering through the world can be. It does make us more sensitive to the issues of the handicapped in just daily living. Strides have been made and Federal mandates for access in public places, but we should all be more acutely aware of the problem.

  14. Shary Hover says:

    I see signs everywhere claiming that a place is accessible and it didn’t occur to me to doubt it. Now that I think about a lot of the places I go, those ramps aren’t easy to navigate and stores are often too crowded with merchandise to make shopping convenient. Restaurants must be even worse. I’ll be more aware now to assist when I can, but I hope things will start to improve. I like to be able to do things for myself and I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to be dependent upon the kindness of strangers every single day.

    • Coming East says:

      This has made me more observant, too, Shary. I didn’t pay any attention before this. I just assume if the sign said handicapped accessible, that it was. There are many different degrees of accessible, aren’t there!

  15. gaycarboys says:

    You’re insightful as always. My back went out once at gym and has been odd now for 10 years. 3 weeks on my back hardly able to move gave me a similar experience. You’ve reminded me of that which had passed into the distant and almost forgotten realms. It’s the things we take for granted that, when snatched away, make us glad for the smallest kindnesses shown to us. It also makes us a little humble.

  16. I have a disabled niece. She is an incredible woman whom I call my energizer bunny on steroids. She has navigated all the ‘conveniences’ that are for handicapped persons with grace, but having taken her shopping on several occasions you are correct in your assumptions of how un-friendly some of these conveniences are. But, she is a trooper as you have been. Eye opening object lessons are always good, but not always easy. I hope your recovery continues at a good speed and that soon you will be able to use restrooms and shop without thinking of how to navigate them. Great post, great insight. Feel better soon. Thanks for this post, it is well written as usual, but you can feel your frustration and now your empathy for those whose road to recovery is either slow or non existent. DAF

  17. One of the hero role models of my life has been a friend who became disabled in midlife due to a medical situation. I have been with him when he has tried to maneuver doorways, dining rooms, etc. and even been seated in the closed back room of a restaurant so he wouldn’t be in the way. He has handled his disability with grace and humor, and not let it stop him from enjoying every aspect life has to offer. He has made me and everyone we know an advocate for the disabled. I may be able to walk through the door, but not into a restaurant that treats the disabled as if they were an inconvenience. You have learned important lessons… use them to help your neighbors who are differently-abled.

  18. Finally, daughter #1 had her boot removed on Friday. (I sent her a pair of brown and pink croc flip-flops that arrived last Wednesday to help her celebrate. I had an eyed an adorable pair of high heeled wedges, nude patent leather with the same patent leather bow, but I thought that was a bit ambitious.) She is a single mom and my heart was tugged when she noted on fb that she is so grateful to our 9-year old grandson for all his help to her over the last few months. I have tried to send him postcards and letters, an acknowledgement for the help you are giving Mommy. Yes, thanks to the caretakers of all ages.

  19. I never would’ve thought of these things — and although you didn’t choose to be in the wheelchair, it did give you an opportunity to see life in a different way, through others’ eyes. And I’m glad you shared your experiences with us!

  20. It really does open your eyes. We went on vacation to the Jersey shore 3 days after I was put in a cast. It never occurred to me that I would be so limited. Stores and restaurants were basically off limits. I just assumed things were accessible, since disabled people do shop and eat…silly me. I found that my own experience really changed my mindset for the better.

    • Coming East says:

      Though I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, I’m glad in a way that you and I have had this experience, Life, because it does give you a deeper understanding and compassion for what some people have to go through every day of their lives. And so many are much more incapacitated than you were or I am. Live is such a struggle for them, and my heart goes out to them.

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