When asked about my disability, I find pleasure in describing myself as the superhero who arrived late when the superpowers where handed out. A would-be Superman who had overslept on the important day. Instead of flying through the sky in a skin tight suit, I’m the world’s first superhero who’s very slow and very weak. One who doesn’t wear a cape because he’d constantly trip over it anyway.
Now that I’ve been using an electric wheelchair for almost a year, I have discovered my true superpower: I’ve become invisible! Luckily that would have been my first choice of superpower anyway, had I any say in the matter.
But now that people don’t see me anymore, it does not feel so cool after all.
When I say people don’t see me anymore, I don’t mean that people ignore me on purpose. It’s quite the contrary. Since I switched from pedestrian to rear wheel drive I’ve more than ever received friendly smiles from strangers. I guess you don’t often see a happy guy in a wheelchair wearing a fluffy cow hat drive through the city.
That is, if you do happen to spot me.
Most of the time, I am simply outside of your visual field. Because of my sitting position, I’m in your blind spot. No one looks for a moving obstacle at belly height. You look left and right, not down. Unless I am coming straight at you, I’m just not there. I could stand minutes next to someone, and they only realise I’m there as they take a step to the side and bump into me. Going through a crowd of people that are heading the opposite way while staring at their smartphones is like slaloming through an asteroid field, Millennium Falcon style. Except that I’m not half as manoeuvrable. I can’t do a quick sidestep, a manoeuvre much applied by everyone else in crowds. I can maybe try a three point turn, but that’s about my repertoire when it comes to evasive moves in close quarters.
Anywhere I go, I am paying just as much attention to what those around me are doing as I am paying to my own movement. It’s the only way of getting anywhere without causing roadkill.
And in case you do see me, you will probably forget me almost instantly. As if I were a glitch in the Matrix. Like the people who notice me waiting at the subway station, then push their way onto the train just ahead of me – and stop right at the door. That this often comes with the ubiquitous wear of headphones has already left many passengers with bruised ankles. Courtesy of a collision with Mr. Invisible who wanted on the same train and couldn’t make himself heard. And someone, I should add, who does not fear to cause bloodshed during the endeavour. Because that’s how we superheroes roll.
Driving on a sidewalk, there’s no chance of getting past anyone in front of me. Pedestrians have this amazingly annoying tendency to always walk in the perfect middle of any sidewalk, no matter how wide or narrow. So wether it’s a businessman on a brisk walk to work or an old lady walking her dog: I’m stuck behind them. My ride is too wide to squeeze past even the thinnest fashion model. And the humming sound of my electric motors is not heard either, because I tend to keep a few meters safety distance. I know your tendency to suddenly stop dead when walking, and without a gracious safety distance that would quickly result in a nasty pile-up.
So my only choice is to resort to an “Excuse me?” and hope to be heard and made room for. But after a minute I’m stuck behind the next person, get tired of the game and decide to just follow along behind.
The other day one of those tiny dogs almost walked into me. Under me, to be precise. You would think that a species whose survival is dependent on their ability to avoid being trampled to death would be able to have an eye and ear out? For evolutions sake? Instead, that dog sees me only a few meters before its total flattening (the so-called pancake event horizon) and makes a wide-eyed jump to the side that would have made every grasshopper re-think it’s career choice.
The only ones able to see past my invisibility, without fail, are pigeons. Evolution apparently made them in anticipation of wheelchair users. So if ever I star in a superhero comic or movie, the super villain would probably be Pigeon-Man, the flying rat of the underworld.
Well, I shall be ready. With great power comes great responsibility.