Having a physical disability makes life harder in almost every way. Everything takes longer, is more difficult, and requires more effort than for “normal” people. Even simple tasks such as brushing your teeth, getting dressed, and using the bathroom can become a large scale production. As with all things though, if you look hard enough you will find that on the flip side of this unfortunate reality, lies something positive. This consolation prize for having to live this way is that occasionally you can get preferential treatment because you are disabled. This is something that I like to call playing the “wheelchair card.”
Imagine what you would do in the following situation. You are getting in line to check out at Wal-Mart. There are only 2 registers open, and they both have a line. You are in a hurry, but accept your fate and start heading towards the shorter line. You get in line about 10 seconds ahead of a man in a wheelchair struggling to push his full cart and maneuver his chair. He says (looking very weak), “I’m sorry, but I am in a hurry. Could I cut you in line?” Now, if any “normal” person asked you, you would at best say “Ummm…no.” but how can you say no to this brave, inspiration of a man? So, you let him check out in front of you. You may even bag his groceries and put them in his car, because you are such a good person. You may not believe me, but I have had this exact situation play out, and guess what, I was not in a hurry (it was a social experiment).
Just because I am in a wheelchair, I sometimes get special treatment. Some people may see this as taking advantage of people or being manipulative, but I see it as no different than a beautiful woman flirting to get out of a ticket. As the kids say, “Use what your momma gave you.” Also, with everything I have to go through because of my disability, it only makes sense to use any positive that comes out of that to my advantage. It has to be used sparingly, but when done correctly, the “wheelchair card” can help take a few of the lemons life has given me, and turn them into lemonade.
One of the main situations that I have used the “wheelchair card” is places with large scale entertainment, like concerts and theme parks. I first figured this out on a family vacation to Disneyworld when I was about 12 years old. As anyone who has been to Disneyworld knows, you generally spend about an hour or more standing in line for a 5 minute ride. Not this handicapable person though. Most rides at theme parks like Disneyworld have different seats reserved for disabled people, but they don’t really advertise this. My family and I slowly figured out that if the ticket takers saw me and my chair, that they would wave us to the front of the line to fill these reserved seats. Naturally, I started making myself visible to avoid standing in long lines, and all of a sudden Disneyworld really was a magical place where dreams come true, thanks to the “wheelchair card.”
Another place that the “wheelchair card” has rarely failed me is at music concerts and festivals. I am a big fan of hard rock and metal as well as rap and hip-hop. Like most people, I also like to be as close to the stage as possible. This location is not exactly a safe place for someone in a wheelchair though, especially at shows where a mosh pit isn’t only encouraged but often required. I realized that if I make myself visible to some roadies, or better yet groupies, and strike up a conversation and mention how being in a wheelchair makes it hard to get a good view of the show, that in no time I will be backstage with a wristband that says “staff.” Sometimes I have not even had to speak. On more than one occasion, a roadie has just walked up to me, given me a backstage pass, and said “enjoy the show.” I have gotten to meet numerous bands this way, and experience things I never would have had it not been for the “wheelchair card.”
Please do not get the wrong impression here. I do not use this “skill” very often, and I definitely do not agree with taking advantage of the kindness of strangers. I also do not agree with “playing up” your disability to try to elicit favorable treatment. This would do a disservice to myself, and every other disabled person, who fights everyday to live as normal a life as they can, and it would also only further skew the perception the public has about disabilities. However, I do not see anything wrong with seeing the glass as “half full” and using your situation to live the fullest, happiest life possible. That is what we all strive for, disabled and able bodied alike. Wilt Chamberlain didn’t play basketball on his knees because he was taller than everyone else. No. He used the gifts at his disposal.
Playing the “wheelchair card” is a specific example of a lesson we should all learn, which is to look for the positive in any situation. In every situation there is something good to be gained, if you are willing to look for it. By going through life always looking for the positives, you will find that life starts to get a little better. By looking through a lens of optimism and positivity, your mind will automatically start to bring these traits to life. So even though my disease is constantly taking things from me, and I am forced to live in this flesh prison, I maintain a healthy, optimistic outlook by looking for the good in every situation, no matter how small. You may not get something as great as the “wheelchair card,” but I am sure that if you apply this same mindset to your life, you too will find your world more enjoyable.