OK, so I bought a wheelchair for the church the other day. It arrived here at our home and I needed to take it over to the church. I had a meeting tonight at the church so I decided to take it with me. The only problem was Jeanne had the car. Enter the idea of a “Social Experiment.” Ride the Everett bus system to the church as a guy in a wheelchair. How hard is it, really?
OK, so as you may have guessed from the view, we live on a steep hill. Oh, and our neighborhood has almost no sidewalks. So going down to the bus stop was actually very scary. I thought I was going to blister my hands. Once at the bus stop several people lined up. They were all very careful to not look at me, talking to each other as if I wasn’t there. One lady even told her child, “Don’t look at him.” She didn’t say, “Don’t stare.” But, “Don’t look at him!”
The bus arrived and everyone scrambled to get on ahead of me. The bus was equipped with a ramp and not a lift. Without a sidewalk the ramp was stretched to street level and very steep. Man, was it hard to roll up it. The people behind me just watched me struggle to get up it. No one even offered to help. Once on board the driver flipped up the bench seat and strapped in my chair. He applied the straps wrong and the chair rolled around. I had to hold on to the flipped up bench. Flipping up the bench caused me to take up 4 seats. Those left standing just glared.
I had to switch buses at the station. Crossing the street to get to the right bus stop was interesting. A driver of a car refused to stop and even honked at me, holding up his hand as if to say, “stay” as he drove through the crosswalk. The stops were busy with all sorts of well dressed commuters. The funny thing was that the well dressed wouldn’t talk to me. When I spoke to them they would give a quick answer and move away. The only people who spoke to me were the young, tattoo covered, tattered clothes kids. They talked to me like they actually cared. They even offered to help if I needed it. The others around the stop, waiting for the other buses that use the same stop, visibly sighed with relief when they saw I was not going to board their buses.
The next bus ride was much like the first, people irritated with how long it takes to load and unload a handicapped guy and irritation over the loss of seating. Once downtown I had to maneuver the crooked sidewalks and cross busy streets with impatient drivers. The ramp at the church is at a good angle and wasn’t too hard to climb. Unlocking the door and getting inside was no small accomplishment either.
I have a new admiration for the folks who use a wheelchair to have a life. I have working legs and a strong back and this was no small accomplishment. It was tiring and frustrating. It is hard work and the world is not laid out to make it easier. People are really not helpful or understanding. You really do feel like a freak. I will treat the handicapped with total respect from now on! How hard is it really? Really hard!