I counted down the hours in my head, constantly looking at the nearest clock or watch around me. “Just until the clock strikes three,” I told myself all day, “then you can finally stand up. Just be glad this isn’t for real.”
I am not actually physically handicapped, but I decided to spend one full school day in a wheelchair to discover for myself what it is really like to be in a wheelchair as a student at SAS and to share this experience with other students.
Several factors motivated me to participate in this eye-opening experience. My grandmother was wheelchair bound for a year before she died, and I always wondered what it would be like to move around in a wheelchair. I also wondered how different a day at SAS would be if I had to navigate it on wheels.
But I never actually thought about trying it until I saw the wheelchair in the media room. I started talking about wheelchairs with Ms. Worley, then I pitched her the story idea.
As I rolled out the doors of the media lab, struggling to keep the door open for myself, my friends taunted, “Ooooweee, she’s in the chair.” One of my friends ran up to me and sat on my lap and demanded that I wheel her around. To my surprise, that was not the only time an incident like that occurred.
For the whole day, I did everything as if I were actually handicapped, from “strolling” through the hallways to using the bathroom.
As the day progressed, I could feel my arms slowly detaching themselves from my body. The more I wheeled myself through the hallways, the more cramps I got. At one point in the day, I couldn’t even be bothered to get myself to my math class.
One of the hardest parts of the day was the navigation. Though I eventually got the hang of it, moving into tight spaces like the elevator was a huge challenge. From opening doors and entering classrooms to trying to get to my desk in class, the first few hours of my time were painful for me and others in my path. Any possible harm I could have caused to someone while in the chair, I did.
Going into all my classes for the day was the same deal. “What happened to you?”
“This isn’t for real, is it?” Then when I would explain to them the situation, the majority of them would say, “Oh okay, can I try it?”
At some point in the day, I had to go to the bathroom. Because I was in the wheelchair for the entire day, I decided to stick to my promise and use the handicapped bathroom right outside the cafeteria (near Subway). It took me around three minutes to get there, which is more than double the time it would take me if I just walked there.
The bathroom itself was just a room. No stalls, just open space with a toilet in one corner with a handle attached to the wall on the left and a sink and mirror to its right. I thought to myself, ‘It’s so isolated… and dark.’ Though the light was flickering, it looked as if it was barely used, which is likely the case.
A few hours before the end of the day, I was sitting outside my marine biology class and my friends were asking me about my day in the wheelchair. Suddenly, a senior came up behind me and grabbed the handles of my wheelchair and ran, wheeling me with him.
I screamed, “Where are you taking me?!” He didn’t respond, but I could hear him chuckling. He made a sharp turn to the garden, and suddenly I feel the front of the wheels of the chair drop into a gap in between the two stones.
I look behind me and see him running away. I try to pull the wheel back so I could get to class. Four minutes! Four minutes! I look back at all my classmates and see that the majority of them are laughing. Never again.
As my classmate Tia pulled me out of the gap, I came to the realization that handicapped people probably go through incidents like this every day. I began to feel ashamed for all the times I passed by a person in a wheelchair who was struggling, but I was too busy with my personal troubles to even think to help.
Though my friends made accommodations for me throughout the day (for example, they made sure there was enough space for me and the chair during lunch), it was still hard to roll out of my spot and get to the elevator. The crowded hallway didn’t help.
For most of the day, I had minimal trouble in terms of being comfortable in class. However, in math class, finding a desk was hard. The desks were attached to a small table and the spaces in between desks were quite narrow. This made it difficult to sit comfortably.
Obviously, being in the wheelchair – with my modest upper arm strength – made me quite tardy to many of my classes. Though there were elevators that helped me get to the third and fourth floors, a lot of my classes were located in areas that were quite far from the elevator.
Mr. Anthony Wong, the SAS facilities manager, said, “In all of recent years – and I have been at SAS for 18 years – there must have been no more than a handful of students [in wheelchairs] from my recollection. We have one student requiring wheelchair presently.”
But for those few, I realized that they face challenges I had never considered. Spending just one day in a wheelchair opened my eyes to what wheelchair-bound students face every day.
They say you don’t know a situation until you are put into it. After spending a day in a wheelchair, I can say that this statement is true. I saw the world from a different perspective while I was in that chair, and now I see the world from a different perspective because of that experience.