We Need More than Just September
As you may know, September was an important month for those of us with spinal cord injuries. It’s that time of year when the eyes of anyone who’s not a wheelchair user can be opened after September’s Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.
I really do love the idea of the world becoming more aware of people who are in a similar boat with me. I love having one whole month dedicated to us. It’s great. But at the same time, it saddens me.
If there is anything I have learned my 24 years on wheels, it’s that this world just was not made for us. Sadly, as much as we want to believe it’s not true, there will always be people who are unaware and places that are unprepared for people who live their lives with an SCI.
I have experienced both of these things.
When I was a little girl in elementary school, I received a gift certificate for a store called Toys That Teach. I can remember being really excited to go there and pick something out. But what I indelibly recall is the reality I had to face when I realized I wouldn’t be able to get inside the store – not by myself, anyway. Thankfully, my mom and my sister helped lift my wheelchair up the staircase that led to the entrance.
Here I am today, still rolling into the same problems. There is a bar I used to frequent. I could get in with no problem. I could maneuver around all the tables and up to the front where you order drinks. Yet there was one thing I couldn’t do. Something very important that every person should have access to. My wheelchair could not fit in any of the bathrooms. When I first realized this, I was greatly disappointed because I knew I’d have to cut my visits there short – shorter than any other patron, and for a really ridiculous reason.
I’ve also had a taste of what it’s like to deal with those who are unaware. This happened about five years ago but still resonates in my memory. I had gone to another city and was visiting the mall – and getting stares like I had never before. Using a wheelchair, I grew pretty used to getting looks here and there, but this was different. You’d have thought those who were staring had never seen someone with a spinal cord injury before that day. Looking back, those were some odd moments for me.
The moral of the story is quite simple. September is not enough. We would like to think one month each year would be enough time for a majority of people to become familiar with SCI. In truth, it’s just not. There will always be people who are unaware and places that are unprepared for people who live their lives with SCI. Raising awareness will take more than just a picture or a poster with the words “September is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.” And it will take more than just one person to create a reality where people with SCI are acknowledged and accommodated. It could start with you. Or me. Or – better yet – both of us.
When we are able to personally witness that life can be tougher than hell for a person who has a wheelchair, then and only then will others begin to see that SCI is much more than just a September thing. It’s an everyday struggle for us to show up in the world, to be visible, and to demand the accommodations we deserve. With a great deal of effort, we can doubtless achieve our objective of being more than a token of September, but instead be recognized every day of every month of every year.
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