October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, so I was so excited when asked if I’d like to write something about my disability for The Riveter — the site all about women and work! I had the perfect idea in mind: How my electric wheelchair has helped me to live a full, productive life!
This year marks the 30th anniversary of my very first electric wheelchair and I wanted to dispel the misconception that wheelchairs are a bad thing. I wouldn’t be who I am — or been able to do what I’ve done — without mine. Just think for a moment about all the things your legs have helped you do. Well, my electric wheelchair has served as my legs practically my whole life. And they’ve helped me do so much!
Here’s an excerpt of the piece, in which I talk about how the world literally opened up to me after I got my first electric wheelchair in the first grade…
For the first time, it felt like the world was within my reach, no longer inaccessible. While my parents worried that a wheelchair might hold me back, it actually propelled me forward — both literally and figuratively. I could now do things on my terms and not have to wait for people to help me. And even though I eventually wore out that first wheelchair (and several more after that), there’s always been one constant over the years: Those wheelchairs gave me freedom and independence. They were the wheelchairs that I walked across the stage in (well, more like rolled) during my high school graduation. They were the wheelchairs that I zoomed down the halls during my first week of college — scared just like my freshmen classmates as we embarked on this next phase of our lives. They were the wheelchairs that helped me do my job on the college newspaper, first as a reporter and then as editor-in-chief.
Our basement flooded last month during a huge rainstorm. Amidst the stress of going through dozens of damp boxes in the aftermath, it was also the perfect opportunity to peek into my family’s past – a treasure trove of memories in the form of books, photos and elementary school art projects.
The highlight, at least for me, came in the form of my first two electric wheelchairs. They’d been sitting in that basement since we moved into our house in 2003, old, broken and merely collecting dust at this point. I’ve gone through several electric wheelchairs in the years since, and still, seeing those two was powerful. It felt like I had stumbled upon a time capsule, a window to my past and my former self, and all the while, I kept thinking: Would I be the person I am today without these wheelchairs?
I’m pretty sure the answer would be “no,” because those wheelchairs are so much more than pieces of metal and wire. They were literally my lifeline.
You can read the full piece here and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat! And of course, feel free to share my essay on Facebook, Twitter or even your local refrigerator. If you share on Twitter, be sure to tag me @melissablake so I see your tweet and we can connect! I can’t wait to hear from you! Love you all… xoxo