Guys in wheelchairs need hugs, too.

If you want to hug the guy in the wheelchair, come on down here. Don’t be shy. Come down where I can reach you. Take a knee or pull up a chair, and let’s do this thing. The A-frame hug – with you bending over at the waist and us both trying to figure out what to do with our faces and where to put our hands –  is better than no hug at all, but it’s not satisfying to me, and probably not to you either. There’s nothing like a real unqualified all out hug and kiss and squeeze. The intensity and duration of the hug and or squeeze is variable consistent with the relationship of the participants and the occasion, and the kiss is always optional (I’ve got a big beard and I fully understand if you don’t want that in your face). But the hug and the squeeze is the whole point.

It’s the same for having a conversation of any consequence or duration. If you come down here, pull up a chair and get down to my level (in more ways than one), we can chat all night and neither of us will get a stiff neck. Doing it this way does require a bit more of a commitment from you – it’s harder to casually wander away when you’re sitting in a chair (trust me, I know). I promise you your commitment will be appreciated.

I’ve been down here, waist high in the world, for some time. The view is occasionally quite interesting – I’ve got a good excuse for looking at people’s butts – but as you can imagine it is usually not terribly inspiring. Of all the things I miss about being down here, apart from the whole “walking” thing, hugs are near the top of the list. Getting down on one knee doesn’t need to feel like you’re proposing to me (sorry guys and gals, he’s happily married!) (although, as my grandfather said, I’ll try anything once.) The whole idea of the arrangement is for less awkwardness.

But if this is getting too complicated, the classic fist bump is perfectly fine. Even better if you jazz it up with some fireworks.

Recommended reading: Waist High in the World, by Nancy Mairs.

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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!