Friday, April 29, 2011

12 Tips on Interacting with a Wheelchair User

Sometimes people feel awkward when meeting someone in a wheelchair, which is understandable. The fear of saying something insensitive or being distracted by the person’s disability is entirely normal. People give power to the fear around disabilities by making it seem like these people are very, very different from everyone else. However, a lot of us have used adaptive devices and don't even know it. Most people use glasses to read better. We ride bikes or use cars to reach long distances. Most of us had braces on our teeth when we were in middle school. Not to mention the minor injuries that temporarily put people on crutches or in casts. The point I am trying to make is that sometimes people (with or without disabilities) need external support to get through their day.
Here are a list of things to keep in mind when interacting with someone using an assistive device such as a wheelchair. Most of these come from the years I spent using adaptive devices but also from conversations I have had with people who have disabilities.
  1. Avoid assumptions. People use wheelchairs for a lot of different reasons. Some people need wheelchairs for only long distances while others are completely non-ambulatory. Some people are in wheelchairs due to injuries, while others have illnesses and have varying levels of function from week to week.
  2. Speak directly. Unless the wheelchair user is unable to answer for herself; it is rude to ask her caretaker or friend a question that should have been directed at her. Also, there is no need to speak slow or loud unless the person you are talking to asks you to.
  3. Get on eye level. It can be very intimidating for the other person to be looked down at for an entire conversation. Unless you are quite short; get on your knees or pull up a chair to talk.
  4. Don’t draw attention Well meaning comments such as “Wow, look at those wheels fly!” or “Hey, speedy!” can be meant in great fun but in excess can be annoying to the wheelchair user because it is drawing attention to the disability.
  5. Don't be afraid to offer help. If you see a wheelchair user struggling to open a door or reach something on a high shelf; it is perfectly acceptable to ask if they need help. If they don't, they'll say no.
  6. Don't ask the question. It is always unacceptable to walk up to a stranger and ask them what is wrong with them and for-the-love-of-god don't ask if they will ever walk again. It doesn’t matter what infirmity they possess that sets them apart, it’s just not good manners. It's really mean to be annoying to someone who can't kick you.
  7. Be Inclusive. When in a conversation with a group of people, don't stand in front of the person in the wheelchair. This blocks them out of the conversation. Try to remember to open up a circle more to include the person in the wheelchair.
  8. Be Sensitive. Referring to a wheelchair user as anything other than a wheelchair user can sound condescending or insensitive. Labels such as Incapacitated, Crippled, Victim, and Invalid should never be used as they can sound belittling. Also, avoid the assumption that this person is courageous or some kind of martyr. They are just a person doing the best they can with the cards they've been dealt; they don't need to be put on some kind of pedestal.
  9. Respect their space. The wheelchair is a part of that person’s space. Leaning on it (particularly if you are not even interacting with this person) or touching it without permission can feel like an invasion of personal space (This goes the same for any other adaptive device they may also be using.). Also, don’t ever push a wheelchair without the occupant’s permission. Be sensitive to the fact that the wheelchair user can not see you and has very little control over the chair while someone else is pushing. Because of this fact; don't be surprised or offended if they don't want you to push their chair if they do not know you very well.
  10. Be thoughtful. If you are accompanying someone in a wheelchair to a public place, it’s always helpful to take note of where the ramps, elevators and wheelchair accessible bathrooms are.
  11. Don't move the chair. If the wheelchair user transfers to a different seat (couch, bed, kitchen chair, etc.); don’t move the wheelchair without their knowledge, and especially don’t take a ride in it without their permission. Sometimes people have bladder catheters or IV bags attached to their chair (Ouch!). Also, they most likely can't get up and hunt you down to get their chair back.
  12. The Parking Issue. Don’t park in the loading zone next to a handicap parking space. People who can’t stand usually do a sliding transfer from the seat of the car to their wheelchair which requires extra space beside the car (The space also can be used for unloading a ramp or lift.). If a wheelchair user comes back to their car and some one has parked in the loading zone; they have no way of getting back in their car and have to wait for you to get done shopping before they can go home. Also, if you have a handicap placquard but do not need a loading zone; try looking for non-handicap spaces close to the front of the building before resorting to parking in a space with a loading zone.
    When you first befriend a person with a disability, it will feel like a big deal and maybe you will make a few accidental faux pas. However, with a little time, you'll forget about the disability and all of this stuff will become second nature.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Snippet From Something I've Been Writing

Though these moonbeams will not leave me
and the sunshine is god herself
I am angry with the state of this world
I am nestled in the safety of a grove of trees behind my home
the grass is perfect beneath my feet
the sun is pink behind my eyelids
and yet I am enraged
I don't know who I am angry at
I think it is the same person who decided a moth was less sacred than a butterfly
or the person who decided plump yellow flowers were weeds
Maybe it is the surgeons who anesthetize women under altars of steel; transforming chubby faced beauties into symbols of monetary value

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Touch the Earth: A Portrait of Indian Existence

I was perusing through a used bookstore a few weeks ago... not really looking for anything in particular. When I'm in a bookstore.... I'm kind of like a four year old in a candy shop without a grownup. I open every book that looks interesting to a random page and test it out... If it continues to interest me, I sit on the floor and read the first chapter. If not, I put it back on the shelf. I grabbed this book in my mad book-consuming frenzy and was blown away by the paragraph I randomly opened it up to.

"You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.... Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The Sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were, The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tipis were round like the nests of birds and these always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of many nests where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children."

That paragraph reminded me of an essay by R.W. Emerson that I have always held close to my heart. 

"The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world. St. Augustine described the nature of God as a circle whose center was everywhere, and its circumference nowhere. We are all our lifetime reading the copious sense of this first of forms. One moral we have already deduced, in considering the circular or compensatory character of every human action. Another analogy we shall now trace; that every action admits of being outdone. Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens."

Oh, and this of course ties in with my affinity for fractals and the fractal universe theory.

I wish I could give you the entire book in this post, but it's far too complex and time-consuming to explain it all. You'll just have to read it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sam Bam 717

My ten year old brother shoots and edits these awesome videos and posts them on Youtube. He taught himself how to edit a while ago and has been going crazy with it.

You can check out his videos via the video below or going to his channel at

Monday, April 4, 2011

Something I have been thinking about a lot...

Lately, I have been drawing a lot of fractal shapes (Fractals are a geometric shape that can be divided into small parts, each of which replicate the whole.). As I've been drawing, I've been thinking a lot about the pattern and geometry of it all.

An idea stirred in my mind, and after looking up some things on fractals; I've realized I'm not the only one to think this.
What if this entire world is a chain of fractals? What if each atom is its own universe, and this planet is just an electron in a greater atom that is our galaxy. What if each galaxy makes up one atom of an entirely bigger universe... What if our birth, death and rebirth is merely a transcendence from one fractal to another (If so, are we becoming smaller or larger?).

The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Fundamental Elements of Southtown

P.O.D. has been a huge influence on my art... Stealing the albums from my brother'a room when I was little-little was always a fun crime to get away with. This is partly because I wasn't supposed to mess with his stuff, and partly because Daniel wasn't allowed to listen to them either. Yeah, I would put the music on and I've always like them- however, the thing that really captivated my attention was the album art. Even to this day, I draw a lot of things inspired by those albums.
I hadn't even given a lot of thought about how much I subconsciously drew from the style in these albums until I was putting CD's away with my sister in law the other night and I saw the (above) album for The Fundamental Elements of Southtown for the first time in a few years. Not to be melodramatic, but it felt like finding an important piece of myself that I had almost lost.