My Not Wheelchair-Friendly City

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I had a very unique and interesting experience this past Purim.

For those who didn’t see, my wife, son, and I got dressed up as Jenny, Lieutenant Dan, and Forrest Gump, respectively. As usual it was a success due to the many hours of thought and hard work put in by my amazing wife Devorah.

And as usual, my crazy son was willing to go above and beyond to make things work, which in the past included things like shaving his chest and letting his sister draw tattoos all over his torso or wearing a full body black morphsuit so with just a hand exposed he could be Thing from the Addams Family.

Lieutenant Dan


This year, the goal was to fully embody Lieutenant Dan, who was in a wheelchair due to losing both of his legs during the Vietnam War.

The wig was easy. The Hawaiian shirt, the scruffy beard, and the bottle in the paper bag were a piece of cake.

The part that gets Shlomo the honors and accolades he deserves was sitting on his legs to make it appear like he had none. And doing so extensively throughout the day, even though as you might expect, it was more than a little bit uncomfortable.

And it looked so realistic, thanks to both his dedicated sitting position, and the wondrous sewing skills of Devorah, that through the grapevine I found out some of my friends and co-workers were concerned that he really had no legs. Sorry about that, guys. Please be aware, he very much has legs. It was just a costume. Not meant to scare or freak out anyone. He’s doing great. And we’re just a little bit of a crazy family.

My Unfortunate Discovery


Anyhow, I made an interesting discovery as I wheeled my well-costumed but not-at-all disabled son throughout the Baka area of Jerusalem. This city is not even close to wheelchair friendly.

It wasn’t obvious at first. What was obvious was even the slightest incline made pushing the wheelchair far, far more difficult. But the inclines are often so slight that while walking or driving, they are barely perceptible. Not the case with a wheelchair. It was a workout, and every block was exhausting.

Then after just a short walk, we came to a flight of stairs. There was no ramp. No convenient alternative path. The options were walk around the block and hope for something better, carry a wheelchair up a flight of stairs, or just take care of things and leave the chair behind. In my opinion, all pretty cruddy options.

And here I was, walking on streets I’ve walked on hundreds of times. Walking up or by staircases I’ve seen dozens of times. But in the past I never gave them even a slight thought. They just were. They meant nothing to me. And it took a (fantastic) Purim costume to see my city through a different set of eyes.

Through Another’s Perspective


Like the Blind Museum or the Deaf Museum, amazing concepts where you step into someone’s else’s world and experience it from their perspective, I was inadvertently thrust into the universe of the disabled. And I felt a tinge of shame for never noticing the world this way before.

Thank goodness, my family and I are healthy. We are fully capable of walking on slight inclines, and climbing flights of stairs both leading up to and inside buildings. And I’m utterly grateful none of us have to suffer through figuring out how to navigate the craziness of a world that sees our needs as secondary.

But I can’t go back to looking at Jerusalem the way I used to.

Whenever I trip on uneven pavement and get slightly annoyed, I’ll think back to that day. That day when I found that some curb ramps were incomplete, leaving bumps that made moving the wheelchair really difficult. That day when I saw that some of these ramps weren’t even placed in the correct locations.

That day we decided, after a half hour of making deliveries with a wheelchair, that is was too difficult and inconvenient to continue doing it that way.

Putting the Wheelchair to the Side


We had the option to fold up the wheelchair and put it to the side. But there are plenty of people out there who aren’t in costume. Who aren’t doing this to amuse friends and family on Facebook. They will not be able to just fold up their wheelchairs and walk around “normally” for the rest of their day. They are stuck with two choices: Brave the inconvenience of their circumstances and just look for ways around them all day, every day. Or stay at home and fall victim to a world that has not sufficiently concerned itself with their plight.

In either case, they will remain invisible to most of us. Most people won’t take to the streets in a wheelchair to try and become better aware of the world they live in.

Which leads to the question:

I had the epiphany. What now?

And, sadly, I have absolutely no idea what the answer to that question is.

In fact, it’s worse than that. I might have an answer to the question. But like everything I’ve done here, I’m too tired to pursue justice.

Too Tired to Make a Change


I got screwed by my phone company, took them to small claim’s court, and watched the system chew me up and spit me out. I got bashed with medical malpractice, pursued every channel I could think of, and just hit wall after inattentive wall.

I want to dive into the trenches and fight for a better country. But I don’t have what it takes. It’s an intense battle, fighting in a sea of apathy to accomplish goals that others don’t share with me.

And I’m too jaded to even give it a second thought.

My heart goes out to anyone trying to wheel themselves around my neighborhood. More so than ever before. I feel for anyone who turns a corner to find stairs they can’t climb with no ramp in sight. For the first time, I feel your pain.

I wish I had the energy to stand up and yell on your behalf. To demand we do better.

I know it’s a step in the right direction for me personally.

I just wish to God I could do more.

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