What I Learned From Being In a Wheelchair

Aileen Resendiz

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2019 was supposed to be my year. I was going to up my style, I was going to start dancing again, and I was going to try to be healthier.

I went into 2019 with the mindset that this year had to be the year where I worked solely on self-improvement. In reality, none of that happened. Only two weeks into this year, I actually seemed to go in reverse.  On January 12th, I fell and broke my tibia, ending up with a recovery time of about 18 weeks. I went from having an optimistic outlook on the upcoming year to thinking that maybe 2019 really isn’t my year.

After breaking my leg, sure, I knew I would have a cast, and probably crutches, but I never thought about my injury to the full extent of what it was. I ended up in a wheelchair for two weeks, and those two weeks were probably the most eye-opening two weeks of my life. As much as I hated the wheelchair, it gave me only a glimpse of what it must be like for people who are in them permanently. It made me wonder if places are wheelchair accessible, and the first place I worried about this was school.

Every building in the school has buttons that automatically open the doors, and I used to use them sometimes before I needed them. I never really thought about where the buttons were placed or how frustrating it must be when they don’t work – I didn’t use them enough to notice any of that. However, after my injury, those accessibility buttons have never stressed me out more.

The buttons aren’t at every door that leads into the buildings. They’re mainly placed at the main entrance, and sometimes on side doors. But if they’re at side doors, they’re only ever at one or two out of the four side entrances. So, because I needed those buttons, I would have a friend hold the door open for me as I wheeled myself in. Not the worst, but it doesn’t make sense to me as to why not all of the entrances were made accessible, especially for people who need to get around without the help of others. Of course the other entrances had buttons, but people in wheelchairs should have easy access to whatever route from class to class is fastest for them. They shouldn’t have to go through doors that add extra minutes onto their passing time.

The accessibility buttons weren’t the only thing that made school frustrating. It may seem nice to be sitting for the entire day, and not have to move, but it came with annoyances as well. Wheelchairs are bulky. They’re about the width of a desk, and getting around in a classroom when you’re essentially as wide as a small table is difficult. I wasn’t able to sit in my own seat, and usually had to sit at spare side tables, or sometimes just behind the last row of desks. Sitting in an extra seat at the back of the room meant that I was generally alone, which I liked at first, but quickly came to hate it. Teachers had to carry on with their lesson plans, and wouldn’t always be able to change them for one student. So with some group activities I was left out and would have to do the same amount of work meant for a group all by myself.

Even though work was done by myself, everything else I did was with the help of another person. The main thing that annoyed me about being dependent on others was getting from class to class, or anywhere in general. Wheeling yourself around is difficult, and I’m extremely lucky to have had at least one or two people in each class I knew I could rely on no matter what. They had to be willing to leave five or ten minutes early, missing a part of class, to wheel me to mine, even though their next class may be all the way across campus. The only real stressful part of this was worrying about what I would do if a friend wasn’t there. Thankfully, that never happened to me, but I was annoyed at how I had lost my independence almost completely. I used to value my passing periods, whether I was with friends or not. If I was with my friends, we would have fun talking about our last class, or about our days in general. I liked being alone as well, because it was a short time for me to mentally drift away from the thoughts of school, and to whatever I wanted. With a wheelchair and even now, I’m almost never alone, and I miss having that time to myself.

Being in a wheelchair or even on crutches for a long period of time is hard. All you want to do is to be able to function normally – you just want to walk. The least others can do is just make things easier for them to be able to get around. Hold the door open for people on wheelchairs or crutches, or anybody who would need that help in general. Help move things out of the way if a room is crowded. Accessibility is extremely important, yet many places – like big cities – still fail to provide this. In New York City, most subway stations only have stairs, and the ones that have elevators aren’t well kept. It’s a similar concept to the buttons on the doors here at school. It already takes people with accessibility issues longer to get places in general, so why are we continuing to make it difficult for them to lead normal lives?

I’m currently still on crutches, and I’ll need that help for at least another six weeks. However for me, I know that there’s an end to it. I know that in a couple of months I’ll be going about my day as I did before the 12th of January. I can’t help but think about the people who don’t see an end in sight, who will always have to make sure a restaurant, store, or even public transportation is accessible for them. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wondering if something is wheelchair accessible, and I hope I never do. Maybe I won’t need an entrance to a building that’s a ramp or just flat ground, but I won’t stop thinking about the people who do.