Real Life Disability: What Do You Do When the Whole World Doesn’t Think You Are a Man

July 20, 2012 at 11:32 am | Posted in Megan's Blogs, Ramblings, The Nitty-Gritty, Wild Stories You Just Wouldn't Believe | 1 Comment
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Man and wife.

Barton taking Megan out.

Have you ever heard of the expression, “Good intentions can lead to hell” or “The world is full of well intentioned fools?”

When I met Barton, I was one of them. We were washing dishes, and I talked down to Barton in my sweet Southern voice. Until a friend took me aside, “Do you have a problem with Barton. You are patronizing him. He has been through all the training you have, and more. Don’t patronize him.” From then on, I have seen Barton just as I would any other guy, one who holds his own, and is very capable of making decisions. Now, I tend to forget about this veil, until it is thrown back in our faces, that is.

Barton and I were just at the point of recovering from our hell week that Barton mentioned in our previous blog, and we had a fabulous week in Hawaii, though came home grieving the loss of our dog Basho while we were away. We were getting our footing this week, feeling positive, energized and focused.

Barton had a meeting, and was driving his motor wheelchair along side a busy road close to our home. The joystick to his wheelchair came off, and flew into the busy road. He stopped a woman to help him get it, but the woman obviously had her own story in her head, assumed Barton was in distress or had mental difficulties and called the Raleigh Police Department and the local EMS.

What ensued was outrageous. Barton tried as hard has could to speak, but was so flustered and upset this woman had actually called the police, all he could say was, “I’m fine.”Unfortunately, in excitable situations, Barton’s speech is even more slurred. He was not given the time or space to explain that it was not a big deal, he just needed someone to pick up the joystick, put it on so he could be on his way.

Barton was not listened to by anyone, not understood, not respected, and he was not given a choice to leave.

The local EMS was even worse, and if we had grounds, we would sue them. They tried to take control of his motor wheelchair by putting it in neutral, demanded to walk him to his destination. One EMS staff even told him, “If you die, and WRAL gets a hold of this, it will ruin our reputation.” The EMS tried to disable the motor on his wheelchair, a piece of equipment that costs over $30,000. Not only that, but Barton’s motor wheelchair is his only means of independence, and here, they were disabling his freedom and independence as a man.

Ironically, Barton and I do so much to educate inclusion awareness, inclusion leadership training for organizations, personal empowerment and community safety. In fact, in just a few weeks, we will be teaching a self-defense program called DisAbled Protection to Bridge II Sports participants.

Later, as we began debriefing the situation, Barton talked about how much energy he spent just trying to be seen as a man, a person. We tend to compartmentalize people into categories and boxes, according to what we think we know. So what happens when we have a situation we don’t know? Especially for the police community, who are trained to see people as needing help or needing to be stopped from harming others. There are victims and bad guys. Many people see Barton as a victim, someone who needs to be cared for. They don’t see him a capable, resourceful and whole, which sadly they miss out on the wonderful personality and gifts that he has to offer the world.

Unfortunately, there is just about no way to speak to and educate the woman who called the police, about what really was going on. Barton feels bad because if the police officers had actually listened to him and understood the situation, they would have had a good laugh at how silly this woman was. And he feels bad that they were taken away from their job, of helping those in real need.

And instead of laughing at how absurd this woman was or the situation was, Barton came home upset, angry and saying, “What do you do when the whole world doesn’t think or treat you like a man.”

And sadly, there are no answers.

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  1. As a young woman with a disability, and one who has to rely on the use of a walker or wheelchair at all times, I unfortunately can relate to situations just like this. I don’t have all the answers, either, Barton. When someone chooses not to listen to what we say, when someone talks to the person next to you instead of you, when they think they know best and use their own abilities to overcome us because of the disabilities we have, there is no answer other than to fight, and to keep fighting. Not every one of these horrible situations can be used as teaching moments, but giving up is a choice we always have. I choose to keep going, and I know you do, too, Barton. I think that’s the best answer we’ve got, and it may just be the best one.


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