‘Cars kept passing, people kept walking, all while I was still asking for help.’: Wheelchair user shares saddening experience, important reminder of accessibility and kindness

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“I’ve debated a bit back and forth with myself about whether I wanted to so openly share this experience I had yesterday or not and have decided I honestly probably should.

To preface this, I am a disabled wheelchair user. I’m still waiting on the build of my custom TiLite wheelchair to be completed later this month, and the chair I currently use is generally only meant to be used for short amounts of time but is often the only affordable option for those who are under-insured. For me, it was a Tricare requirement before I could get a custom wheelchair. My current chair is a Drive Medical Pro chair, available at most DME stores in the area.

woman in wheelchair with sons
Courtesy of VVHerbWitch

I went to a peaceful protest, but that’s not what this is about. I got there late (which is absolutely my fault, I know this), and we rushed to set up my wheelchair so I could try to catch up to the other protestors, who had just started to march when we arrived. I was unsuccessful in this for a multitude of reasons, but primarily the safety of accessibility in our city’s downtown districts for disabled individuals. I reside in Clarksville, TN, a city I otherwise have grown to love and have accepted as my home after I was first stationed at Fort Campbell over 15 years ago.

The first major obstacle was at a curb-cut on Franklin, just across from near the Blackhorse (what used to be my favorite place to eat downtown…now sadly inaccessible to me). I started onto the curb-cut to descend down the sidewalk, but the sides were unlevel, and my wheels lost traction. On a properly graded area, this would not have been much of an issue, but this street is very unsafe and no retrofitted alterations have been made to increase safety for mobility aid users. I started to slide off and out into the road, with passing traffic. I asked for help, and two people I know heard me, one made eye contact and shook her head, and the other distinctly told me no. Cars kept passing, people kept walking, all while I was still asking for help.

Had it not been for my partner driving past when he did, seeing me, and helping me, I likely would have been seriously injured. While people just watched. He asked if I wanted to stop, but I could still see the crowd and wanted to catch up, so I said no, that I had it…

I continued down the bumpy sidewalk trying to catch up, but it was difficult to maintain control over my wheelchair. Thankfully, I wear gloves, or my hands would be in pretty bad shape today from trying to maintain a safe pace, with a continuous grade down the sidewalks of Franklin Street not allowing wheelchair users safety to descend, and making ascension practically impossible (a detail I began noting in my mind about how I planned to get back UP the hill).

Toward the bottom of the hill, there’s some sort of utility access in the middle of the sidewalk, and I could not pass it. I’m no stranger to this with this wheelchair, so I backed over this obstacle like I’m used to doing…and my front wheel got stuck. A boy around 10 and his dad (I’m assuming) were nearby, and the boy asked if they should help me. The dude more or less told the child I deserved it (keep in mind…my protest sign was attached to the back of my chair…facing them at this point).

As they got closer, he told me, ‘Play stupid games, win stupid prizes,’ then walked away laughing. I’ll be honest, a very large part of me is more annoyed at the misuse of the common military phrase, but that’s not what upset me. I’m no stranger to the darker side of human nature…and a child learned that lesson yesterday. That was a thing taught. A moment can’t be undone.

My heart sank, and after I got unstuck, I realized I couldn’t even tell where the rest of the protestors had moved to. I panicked, took off my sign, and started up the hill, only then realizing that ascent was completely impossible. So I called my partner to come pick me up, and sat in my chair, next to my sign on the ground, thankfully with the words hidden, until he could come to retrieve me. I was partly blocking the sidewalk, and I feel rude for that, but I couldn’t even get anyone to hand me the sign so I could roll around the corner to hide until my partner could get there.

When he got there, I was so humiliated by the whole ordeal, that even after we realized the other protesters had returned to the downtown commons, we didn’t join them. I only wanted to go home.

I feel better about things today, but it’s reaffirmed to me how people view the disabled. We are invisible…only one adult person who ignored me could very clearly and obviously see my sign, and I sincerely hope that person doesn’t speak for everyone who claims to be so in love with life when mine didn’t matter.

Happy Disability Pride Month, I guess, though.”

woman in wheelchair while man holds her hand
Courtesy of VVHerbWitch

This story was submitted to Love What Matters  by VVHerbWitch of Clarksville, TN.  Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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