I taught a college course on discrimination and difference. A student in the course, who was in a wheelchair, told me and the other students that his community of disabled persons called us TAPs. When asked what a TAP is, he smiled, “Temporarily Abled People.” In my case, he was right.
My home is an Assisted Living Facility, an ALF. Disabled because of an horrific motor vehicle accident, resulting in multiple breaks, fractures, and burns, I’m unable to perform most of life’s daily activities – the basics you don’t think about: drinking a glass of water, putting on a shirt, opening a letter, taking a shower, picking a piece of fruit from the produce section shelf, and many other tiny incidentals from waking up to going to sleep. I took all of these things for granted before the crash. Maybe you do, too.
I rely on the concern and kindness of the assisted living administration and staff for help and empathy. But professional caregivers are not the only providers of kindness, and my world is not only the ALF. I get out. I move in the “real” world; where contact with people and events are unexpected - they pop up.
In the non-rainy months – fairly limited for Oregonians - I roll on my power wheelchair the ten minutes it takes to go to my favorite coffee house. When I approach, someone on the inside sees me through the glass door, or maybe sitting in the outdoor patio during summer, gets up from his or her table to open the door for me to roll through. I move toward an empty table and mark the territory with a book. Someone pushes a loose chair out of the way so that there is space for my wheel chair to roll to the counter to place my order. The barista brings my order to the table, outdoors as well as inside, and pours the latte or cappuccino from the house takeout cup into my tippee cup, with handles, which I need since my accident-stiffened fingers can’t grasp the cup. The ceramic cup, even with a handle, is too heavy for my weakened hand.
The barista has learned from me about my manual disability that prevents me from fitting my hand around the circular paper cup nor support the weight of the heavy in-house ceramic cup.
I enjoy the drink, the atmosphere, the book I’m reading, and the conversation with those I meet. When I’m ready to leave, a barista takes my cup to the counter area, washes it and places it in the plastic bag which is placed in holder of my wheelchair, ready for the next visit.
Someone else, another stranger, opens the door for me.
I leave and roll away. Rolling back home. To the ALF. To continue the journey.
Dependent on acts of kindness.