When I think about SCI Awareness Month my brain turns into a knot of facts about spinal cord injuries and wheelchairs; things that I’ve learned throughout the 11 years since Shawn’s injury, things I wish other people would understand, causes that I wish were more well known so they could receive more funding. I get defensive and angry when I think about inaccessibility, stereotypes and ignorance. I have to remind myself to have faith that people are good, and that they aren’t purposely being ignorant; they just don’t know what they don’t know. And isn’t that the whole point behind an awareness month? To rally together the people who DO know so they can teach those who are willing to learn?
I’m assuming that if you’re here reading my long, drawn out thought process, it’s because you want to learn. So, what can I teach you that you might not already know? I don’t have a clue, but here goes nothing.
I think one of the things that irks me most is all the stories, links and social media tags that we get sent of paralyzed people walking again, or new equipment that will help you walk, or new wheelchairs that climb stairs. Nothing against any single one of those things specifically; I’m super pumped that Steve can walk again and that someone took the time and effort to design a transformer wheelchair. My issue is that people are ignoring the obvious. We wouldn’t need to invent some fancy piece of equipment to climb stairs, that realistically no one can actually afford any way (because disability equipment is NOT cheap, but that’s another blog post entirely), if there was a ramp. WHOA. Mind blown right?
Having a disability or using a wheelchair isn’t something that needs to be overcome, but something that needs to be accepted as normal. The topic of walking again, or not walking again, is a touchy one; some people have made it a goal, others have accepted that it won’t happen. So, maybe just skip sending those stories all together. And instead of sending us that link or video of the very cool, but equally unattainable transformer chair, take notice next time you’re in a place that would make that kind of equipment necessary. Take the time to mention it to an employee, the owner, or event organizer that you noticed they didn’t have any wheelchair access. Education is key. Universal access is key. So that’s what we need to work towards.
We need to petition to change current bylaws that don’t make accessibility mandatory for things like heritage buildings; they’re being renovated to accommodate whatever shop/restaurant/venue is taking over, so why shouldn’t they be required to add an elevator, lift, or ramp? We need restaurant managers and owners to know that bar height tables don’t work for everyone because no one likes their meal being at chin level. We need cities to understand the need for accessible parking and the variety of reasons that it is needed so they can adequately enforce parking regulations. I mean, the list goes on forever, but the point I’m trying to get at is that we need SIMPLE change; we don’t need anything fancy. We just need people to notice that there needs to be change.
“An idea begins with an individual and they share the idea with more individuals. Eventually it becomes a movement”– Christopher Reeve
We are living in an age of movements. All you have to do is look at the news, social media, the streets to see it happening; Black Lives Matter, climate change, Me Too, women’s rights. I believe that people are wanting to learn; they are apologizing for past indiscretions and working to correct themselves and do better. You can’t learn everything about life with an SCI in a month; it’s an entire lifetime of learning and as the SCI community grows, our digital world has allowed for a lot wider spread of information. There are YouTube channels, Instagrams, Twitters, books, Facebook groups and websites dedicated to changing the way the world views SCI. We have all become part of a movement and it’s our job to keep that movement going long past the 30th of September.