The Worlds Wheelchair Culture
E-MAIL  PARALINKS From Staff of The Channels, student newspaper at Santa Barbara City College

Life ultimately same whether on feet or wheels
By Xavier Horan and Kelly Savio

My name is Kelly and I guess I'm what you call "average.' There's nothing really different about me, nothing eye catching that sets me apart from the norm.

But there are lots of people out there who do have things that set them apart. And lately, I've been thinking how different from the norm these people really are.

My Name is Xavier and well I guess I'm average too. But there is something different about me compared to Kelly. I am paralyzed from the waist down. I have a tendency to make people turn their heads when I enter a room. It is something I have come to deal with. It is not offensive to ask me a question.

Xavier and I were hanging out, and we wanted to get from the lower part of the Campus Center to the Student Services Building. Instead of the normal straight shot I'd take up a few flights of stairs, we had to go through a labyrinth of walkways. We took the elevators, skirted stairs, and we used out-of-the way ramps that zigzag back and forth. Try it sometime. Walk from Point A to Point B using only wheelchair-accessible routes.

Getting around for me has always been something of an ordeal. I have found ways to manage my time so that when I have to get from one place to another, I know exactly how long it will take me. I know what route I will be taking up and down the ramps around City College, to make sure I am at my destination on time.

We decided to head off campus for lunch, and we took Xavier's SUV. I just hop in the car and go. Xavier has a system. He uses his steering wheel to slide into the driver's seat, and then he totally disassembles his wheelchair and tosses it in the back seat. There's a nifty little device that lets him control the gas pedal and brake with his left hand. Turn to apply gas, push to brake. Easy as pie. When we got to Lazy Acres, Xavier put his chair together again, and off we went. It took no more than an extra two minutes. No big deal.

Getting in and out of the car has turned into a science for me. Riding around with Kelly made me a little jealous that I can't just jump in and out of the car. It takes me time, not a lot, but time that becomes tedious. But there is no getting around it.

I was surprised to find out Xavier would rather be open about his situation, rather than pussyfooting around it. He's not afraid to tell you he was in a car accident about three years ago, broke his back, and is now a paraplegic. He told me he likes talking with kids because they're so up front. Xavier didn't mind telling me he didn't feel a thing when he got a tattoo on his leg, and how weird it was using the latest exercise gadget that contracts your ab muscles because he can't do it himself. I guess people are worried about offending people with disabilities by talking about them. And maybe some people would be offended. But why ignore it, when you can just acknowledge the disability and move on? Just like driving, he does everything the same way everyone else does, just with minor adjustments.

I was very pleased to spend time with Kelly. I was also very surprised that she was so straight forward with me. Asking questions about how I survive on my own without assistance‹how I do little things people take for granted like showering and using the restroom. I like to think of my situation as not a disability but as the ability to do the everyday functions in a different manner.

I have not met a person who has a disability who won't try to educate someone who asks a question. So if there is a question you have, don't hesitate to ask.

Xavier puts up with people acting differently with him than they would with me, just because he's in a wheelchair. When someone meets me, their first impression is of me. Just me. But people's impression of Xavier is totally different. Instead of seeing him, lots of people see a wheelchair, and they may never get past it.

I just know how much I like Xavier, how funny and cool he can be. It is upsetting that people would rather be put off by a couple of wheels and a chair slapped together, and avoid getting to know him.

I have been in a wheelchair for almost three years now. It's a part of my life and will continue until the day they find a cure for paralysis. I've met a lot of people in my days as a paraplegic who haven't been very kind. But they are a small percentage compared to those who have treated me with love and respect. But I still get smirks and googly eyes from ignorant people who don't want to take time to know who I am without my chair.

People have perceptions and stereotypes of lots of different things, I suppose. People classify others by their clothes, skin color, their jobs, majors, and dozens of other petty things. But I think one huge misconception able-bodied people have about people with disabilities is that we should feel sorry for them. Why? Xavier can do almost everything I can do, and a few things I can't. He can ski, and I've never even been brave enough to try. He can park wherever he wants, and I have to hoof it up the hill from the parking lot by La Playa every morning. He can push himself up steep hills, all over campus, and up and down grocery store aisles, while I can barely do a few pullups.

The only thing Xavier can't do is walk.

Kelly and I are not so different in life. We both write for The Channels, and we are both looking for the meaning in our lives. What it is we want to do for the rest of our existence. Life comes to everyone in different shapes and forms but we all take what we get and move on. We are all looking to learn more about everything around us, and there is no better way to learn than to ask questions about things we do not have any knowledge of. It was wonderful to have spent the day with Kelly and enlighten her on the life of a paraplegic. I hope that this encourages people to learn about what they don't know, instead of coming to their own conclusions.

When he got in that car accident three years ago, he didn't