Leg Envy/Arm Prejudice
By Heidi Johnson-Wright
All body parts are not created equal. This is often the opinion of non-gimps, especially when they take a break from their normal lives to observe gimps. Like when they stand on fully functioning legs waiting for their macchiatos, then take a window seat at the ADA table to sip and watch gimps pass by outside.
Before you know, a gimp rolls by in a chair. That gimp might be a CEO dressed in a bespoke suit and handmade Italian leather shoes on his way to a meeting at his blue chip company. Or she might be wearing a vintage Comme des Garcons dress and carrying a Fendi baguette while headed to a show of her artworks at a gallery. Or perhaps it’s just a regular Joe or Jane gimp. Doesn’t really matter, because the non-gimp’s instant reaction is typically something like:
“That poor gimp, confined to a wheelchair because of his/her useless legs.”
Legs, legs, legs! Unless you’re a Rockette or an Olympic long-jumper, why is this pair of body parts so gosh darn important? Why do non-gimps insist that these below-the-waist appendages are the only credible, non-pitiable way to get around in the world?
I know what you’re thinking, dear reader. I’m overly sensitive because I use a wheelchair. I’m bitter because I’ll never get to stand three hours in line to ride 90 seconds on a rollercoaster. I’m angry because I’ll never get to feel the excruciating tearing away of my ACL while playing intramural basketball.
Okay, perhaps you’re a little bit right. But only a little bit, because my main point is this: what in the Sam Hill is wrong with arms? Why do non-gimps never see a gimp pass by and think:
“That poor gimp, can’t wash her hair because of useless arms.”
Yes, dear reader, some of us wheelchair-using gimps also have arms that don’t measure up to non-gimp standards. In my case, the juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that jolted my immune system into overdrive destroyed not only the joints in my legs, but also the joints in my arms. It’s been 40 years since I last touched the top of my own head.
I have to do a lot of things with aids for daily living, or ADLs for short. What’s an ADL, you ask? It’s a 50 cent piece of plastic that you order out of a catalog, pay $50 for and use to compensate for your gimped-up arms.
There are long-handled comb ADLs, long-handled toothbrush ADLs, long-handled shampoo applier ADLs, make-up brush ADLs, foot scrubber ADLs, dressing stick ADLs and of course, the ADL probably everyone has seen: reacher stick ADLs.
I have multiple cabinets, drawers and closets in my house filled with ADLs, because each is tailored to a specific task. I mean, forget about trying to use a spoon with an extended handle to put on your socks.
There are even some things that no ADL can compensate for. For instance, I could spend the gross national product of Guam on ADLs and still never be able to use a Q-tip for the task that the Q-tip company tells you – nudge, nudge; wink, wink – to never use it for.
So the next time you see me motoring by in my chair, don’t assume that non-functioning legs have put me in a wheeled, mechanical prison of despair.
Instead, assume that my closets are filled to bursting with 50 cent pieces of plastic.
I’m a lawyer but please don’t hold that against me. My day job is working as an ADA compliance professional for a large metropolitan area. I’ve had severe rheumatoid arthritis since childhood and am a full-time power wheelchair user. I’ve been a published free-lance writer for 24 years, writing mostly book and music reviews, as well as stories on accessible travel. I currently have a completed memoir manuscript that I am pitching to literary agents. I’m a native Clevelander who got smart and moved to Miami 16 years ago. My husband and I are two of the handful of gringos who live in Little Havana with our two kitties and a few renegade opossums.