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And Finally: The View From Belt-buckle Height

Reprinted from PN July 2002
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There's something magical about a wheelchair or scooter. As soon as a person employs one of these mobility devices, he or she becomes invisible.

Visit a superstore—one of those mega shopping cathedrals—or a mall, for example. Roll through the throngs of crazed shoppers searching for this millennium's great bargain, and observe the mystical transformation that takes place: You become transparent, almost nonexistent.

I recently spent an evening at Downtown Disney near Orlando, Fla., on a busy Saturday night. Taking a close look at people's mannerisms, expressions, and movements as I tried to squeeze my way through the crowd in my electric scooter, I began to note some identifiable patterns. Hampered somewhat by my limited view from belt-buckle height, I began to categorize them, beginning with the basic classification of Homo sapiens.

The first (and most common) species was the cellular nomad, Homo cellulus. An elementary-school teacher once told my class that throughout history most problems among people have been caused by the inability to communicate. This sage educator would have to eat his words if he could see how much communication goes on among people in this age of technology.

The problem isn't so much with the content of the phone conversation as it is with the effect it seems to have on the users. Concentration on the conversation produces a tendency to wander. As they chatted away, these folks at Downtown Disney didn't look where they were walking and tended to cross my path, mere millimeters from a collision. Perhaps that's what cellular-phone companies mean by "roaming."

Then there is the field-of-vision-impaired species Homo notlookingdownus that can't see below an imaginary horizontal line in front of them. Anything below five feet remains hidden from view. My many run-ins with these good people usually resulted in flattened toes or bruised shins (theirs). How do small children live to adulthood after a few afternoons spent in the mall with Mommy?

Some creatures are so immersed in the shopping experience that all surrounding life forms are eliminated from sight. The only stimuli capable of producing a reaction from Homo bargainus are words such as "sale," "clearance," "food," and "souvenirs."

Last but not least are the Homo braindeadus, ramblers who carry the weight of nothingness on their minds (also known as "airheads"). Looking straight at you, they manage to cross right in front of you, making you stop or swerve suddenly to avoid running into them.

Was I so atmospheric when walking in a crowd before I began using a scooter? I certainly hope not. Maybe this is payback for my own sins.

In the final analysis, however, I have come to realize that the only real species is the human being—Homo sapiens. Most are Homo erectus, while the rest of us are Homo wheelus. We get around as we are able to. Those of us in the driver's seat know there's no such thing as being "confined" to a wheelchair or scooter. These gadgets liberate, not imprison us. At times they may seem to make us invisible, but that comes with the territory. I believe the secret is in our flexibility—how we adapt to our new location a scant few feet above the ground.

Recently I read of someone whose wheelchair sported a sign that read, "I used to be taller." I rather liked and admired the spirit that motivated that message.

Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (how can something that's numbered "ninth" still be considered new?) defines mobile as "capable of moving or of being moved." It doesn't say anything about walking.

My informal study of fellow "movers" has led me to some fundamental conclusions:

— If a cellular phone can bring people together, then what's the harm? As long as we aren't brought together by way of a collision, that is.

— As for those who seem as distant as the outer planets, I feel a touch of envy toward them. It must be nice to be able to wander aimlessly and carefree. As long as it isn't a permanent condition, of course.

— In the end, we are who we are, and we make do with what we have. My scooter enables me to participate in life rather than be a mere observer—to be on the playing field and not in the bleachers.

As for that crowd in the mall or at the tourist attraction, it's made up of people just as unique as I am. The primary differences between us are that I can become invisible at times, and I can see a lot from belt-buckle height.

PVA member Frank Caceres has multiple sclerosis(see "Multiple Sclerosis: An Owner's Manual," December 2001 ). Contact: caceresf@hotmail.com

 

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And Finally: The View From Belt-buckle Height

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