Tag Archives: wheelchairs

The Powerful Disempowered

Debbie says:

I can’t be the only person who feels a huge symbolic weight around Dick Cheney attending his last official function in a wheelchair.

It’s such a complicated story: first of all, I have a personal hard time believing the “pulled muscle” story, probably just because I’ve never heard of anyone having to use a wheelchair because of a pulled muscle. (I didn’t watch the inauguration; I listened to it. Were people standing for a long time, or were there chairs?)

Second, I can’t imagine not experiencing some schadenfreude. After all, this is the Vice President who accidentally shot one of his friends in a fake duck hunt.

But there’s more to the story. Liz Henry wrote a fine piece about it yesterday:

Even though I think that Cheney should (and WILL) go to jail for being a war criminal, I would have liked him to have a halfway decent wheelchair. Hell, I would personally have decorated it with the stars and stripes.

Before I had friends who use wheelchairs, I never thought about them as stylistic and personally expressive (except that I knew some people put bumper stickers on them). Now I look at every one I see, looking for what it tells me about the person who chose it. Often, it’s easy to see that they weren’t given a choice, which is also information.

I wondered, would anyone in power notice, a little bit more than they did before, what inaccessibility means, how excluding and alienating and humiliating it can be? Would anyone process, or whatever they were doing, with Cheney in his wheelchair, rather than leaving him to be tunnelled and elevatored and ramped while they triumphally process up and down majestic red carpeted staircases?

To me, this is the key point. Even in the we-hope-new-world of the Obama presidency, no one in a wheelchair was scheduled to be on the stage, no one thought about the possibility that a person in a wheelchair might be on the stage, and no one worried about how to get a wheelchair onto the stage until the last minute. Sometimes, “second class” accessibility workarounds truly are the only way, but oh-so-often better solutions can be implemented with a little forethought and planning. And this wasn’t exactly a permanent structure that has been around for decades.

But Liz also has another point to make.

I kind of giggled at the Dr. Evil jokes, but I also thought about them. Did you? Did you think on why they are a stereotype – how our stories have to give its villains a scar or “deformity” or a wheelchair (and a cat), using disability as a metaphor for being evil? I’m not saying don’t make the joke. I’m right in there posting the LOLcats of Blofeld-Cheney. But think next time you use the stereotype of the Evil Cripple.

I’m starting to imagine a whole literature in which the majority of villains are white men in suits and ties … At least it would be different.