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See Me

ColleneCollene Member Posts: 1
Photogenic

Sometimes it takes a wake-up call to get involved. I’d seen the invitation to join the “See Me” movement with the Reeves Foundation. Each day I kept moving on to other important items before my laptop would run out of power. (I really do have lots more to do than I ever accomplish in a day.) Last evening, the local news caught my attention with the announcement that a man using a motorized wheelchair was killed crossing the road. Oh, no, I thought, I really DO need to get back on the Reeves Foundation website and tell my story so the world will see more of us who use wheelchairs.

 

My background: I lived 60-some years of my life as the typical ‘temporarily able-bodied” woman. I am a lifelong educator having taught kindergarten through fourth grade classes for a few years. But, my Masters was in K-12 Reading Instruction and I felt my calling was to the scores of problem-readers I taught to read and to their teachers who benefited from research-based teaching and learning strategies. However, the majority of my education career was in administration initially as a Curriculum Director and, ultimately, retiring as a public school Superintendent after earning my Doctorate in Education Leadership. My husband and I have been married 45 years and our children are doctors and a marine scientist. We sailed for 40+ years in the Great Lakes and in the Chesapeake Bay. We were also able to travel extensively in the US and abroad on five continents. I have been richly blessed.

 

Life took a 180* turn within a year after retirement when a woman who was driving her car while also holding and talking on her cell phone hit my car. The accident broke over two-dozen bones (they quit counting) from my skull to my tibia. The most severe, however, was my T-6 vertebrae. Along with the paralysis from my mid-back down, I have scoliosis and severe bone density issues. I used to think I would be halfway there if I could just stand up. Once they removed the chest brace, I realized due to the scoliosis I could not sit unsupported, either. I live with managed pain each day. Thankfully, I have a well-designed wheelchair. I can drive and won an accessible van in NMEDA’s Local Hero Contest. (Thank you NMEDA, Toyota, and BraunAbility.) That was a game changer!

 

Why do I write? And, why was it the death of the man in the wheelchair accident that prompted me to write? Well, I feel I have been invisible way too often. The rude drivers who park in handicap parking spots drive me nuts. And, just because one has a relative who once needed a hangtag, but it luckily hasn’t expired yet, know that it is illegal to use it. But, it is especially the ones who use the slash-lined access lanes next to the clearly marked “van only” parking spots 1) to claim a closer spot even without a van, 2) to give themselves an extra wide space by parking partially over the slash marks, or 3) [most bizarre of all] to park between two vans who need the space to lower and access their vehicles, who have prompted me to call the police. Yes, officers DO ticket drivers for such infractions with and without a hangtag.

 

Beyond the parking issue, which is HUGE for those of us using wheelchairs, I have personally felt invisible in the following ways:

1.     People milling about in crowded places that nearly fall into my lap because they move into my space. They don’t even realize I’m there. Please, see me.

2.     People sitting directly in front of me in church who, when it’s time to rise and pass the peace or welcome others, shake hands with others nearby but not with me. When I specifically speak to or reach out to tap them, they look down and say, “Oh, I didn’t notice you there.” Please, see me.

3.     People moving with me through crowded areas that step directly in front of me. I am cautious to keep my hands ready to quickly grab my wheel rims thus stopping myself, but sometimes they cut too closely in front of me. Many then glare at me like ‘where did you come from and why did you bump me!’ They don’t see me. Please, see me.

4.     The professional photographer who was positioning us while chatting away with my husband but completely ignoring me. After the umpteenth question to my husband about his life, when he asked what he did for a living, I waited for my husband to answer. But, before the photographer could ask another question, I quickly chimed in that I had retired as a public school Superintendent. His mouth went slack as he looked at me and the look on his face said, “What, you can talk and have a brain and had a career?”
He didn’t see me nor did he think I had much to contribute to the world, let alone this conversation. He assumed he knew what I could and could not do. He didn’t see me. Please, see me.


In retirement, I am on three boards, holding executive positions on two of them. I maintain a blog for and about those with mobility challenges. (Fasthugs: Reflections on My Road to Recovery https://fasthugs.wordpress.com/) There are three pages or areas. 1) My reflections, stories, and tips for those with SCI. 2) Current research for breakthroughs in SCI. 3) Links to items of interest to those with SCI such as inventions or creative approaches. I’m working on a book with my aunt in her 80s of stories of our family heritage. 


But, I am most proud that I have written a manuscript I have named Sure I Can. It traces children with mobility challenges from preschool through rolling across the stage at HS graduation. The children all face and overcome typical obstacles for those with mobility challenges like paraplegia, missing limbs, spina bifida, scoliosis, surgery, birth defects, etc. They are of all major faiths. They mirror the gender, ethnicity, and race of the US. In other words, they could be any child; they are seen overcoming the typical challenges. They are more alike fully mobile children than they are different from them. I’m pretty sure I am the only person who personally lives with SCI challenges who also understands the expectations in and out of school for children K-12. I have submitted the manuscript to many, many publishers but have not found the right one yet. I get the same response in their rejection letter or email. The manuscript is interesting, well written, and has a crucial message, especially in the present culture of bullying and divisive messaging. But, they are not the right publisher for the book.


My neighbor and friend who is a retired CEO of a major publishing house shared that the bottom line is they don’t believe they will sell enough books to make enough money by publishing a book that appeals “to this niché market.” They don’t see us. The ironic thing is that it seems likely no one saw blind people until The Miracle Worker was published. I have reflected that seeing people do not assume blind people are also simple minded. They know, from Helen Keller, that to be untrue.


Please see me.


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