Hey! It’s me down here!

It is hard to find steeze when you’re in a wheelchair. It’s even hard to get noticed, as anyone who has tried to navigate through a crowd – or even just a busy sidewalk – in a wheelchair will tell you. I don’t know what it is, how people can’t notice a wheelchair.

There is an organization that operates during the Montreux Jazz Festival (and perhaps elsewhere) called “FreeArts,” that provides wheelchaired concert patrons assisted access. A volunteer “guide,” is assigned to help navigate the crowds and get the patron to his/her seat. Even with the most aggressive assitant pushing my wheelchair through the throngs – literally shoving people aside, as if there was a medical emergency – people still seemed almost not to notice me. Free Arts is a great model for public events everywhere, a way to encourage handicapped people to get out and about, people who might otherwise be reluctant to venture into a crowd.

There is a strange reluctance to step aside. Perhaps they don’t realize that a person in a wheelchair is far less manouverable than a person on two legs. I am reminded of the book, “Waist High in the World,” by Nancy Mairs. Whatever the reason, there are ways to get noticed, short of just ramming through the crowd with a stick, other people’s knees and ankles be damned.

There’s the Action Track Chair, which looks a bit extreme (and probably is not suitable for concert-going) but for those of us who used to love being out in the woods or other rough terrain, the Action Track begins to look very reasonable.

At the other end of the spectrum – less extreme but no less noticeable – is this custom-built Who Dat Cadillac scooter, designed by a custom motorcycle shop in New Orleans for a handicapped man who was tired of his style – his steeze – being cramped by what he calls “corporate wheelchairs,” and inspired by the former Saint’s player Steve Gleason, who is fighting a very public battle with ALS. Scott Songy, the Cadillac’s designer, is donating the scooter to Team Gleason, a foundation started to raise ALS awareness and funding for research.

At the very least, a flag might help. I want a pirate flag for my chair. Maybe that’ll scare ’em off!


Author: stephen

stephen harris is a writer, painter and a photographer who lives with his family in maine.

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