Words from the Wheelers

Words from the Wheelers#


“I think that there are two basic responses that people have to people in wheelchairs, one of them being admiration and one of them being pity. And if people are unable to overcome those initial responses, then they simply will never get to know you as a person.”

—Lyn Dickey

“People’s responses can be either really negative or really funny. It all depends on what your perspective is. I love to go out to a restaurant and watch people’s reactions. People can be really turned on to you, they’re really interested in what you’re doing, and just watching facial expressions is priceless for me. To me it’s funny. Some people will be turned off by it. I get into it.”

—Rick Harry

“I wasn’t a really outgoing person. I guess the people in town were afraid of me at first, but people talk to me now. They ask me what happened to me, so I’ll tell ‘em. Now I’m used to it. They got used to me. Now they stare at me and smile and I’ll smile back. Nice.”

—Deanna Gonzalez

“The wheelchair is a very, very good place to observe life from. From that wheelchair, you can see so much of people, and they will tell you so much about themselves.”

—Larry Quintana

“With the quads, in particular, in our sports program, there’s almost a reversal of situations. Their spouses, friends, attendants, whatnot, develop acute chair envy when we’re at the Games. They want to be in chairs themselves. Everybody there is so united in their intent, and having such a great time doing it, that other people want to get in a chair and race around.”

—Mary Wilson

“This chair doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t affect anything except the ability to walk. I roll places instead of walking. Sometimes I roll faster than people can walk.”

—Steve Epstein

“When I sit down at a table with somebody, they sit down at a table too.”

—Rob Lewis

“Living as a spinal cord injured individual is really no different than living as an able bodied individual, except that you’re doing it on wheels. Some of the technical aspects of living on wheels are different.”

—Elmer Bartels

“It’s done one good thing. People always remember me”

—Fred Rosene


“Recently, someone asked me —it was an Indian — Are you ever going to walk? I says, No, man. He says, Oh come on. You are. I go, It doesn’t bother me. I hope I do. It’d be kind of nice someday. But it doesn’t really bother me, so don’t let it bother you. Don’t let it get you down.”

—Larry Quintana

“Most people that you meet do not understand that there could be any conceivable reason why you might want to be the person you are. If disabled people can see themselves as being worthwhile and being able to do the things they want to do and can convey something of this to others as they go through life, it will have an effect not only on other disabled people, but on the expectations of the public. And that, after all, is what opens the doors to us when we go to look for jobs, when we seek positions on advisory committees or in political situations or volunteer work. It’s public expectations which, to a large extent, determine what you can do. And we have some responsibility for changing these.”

—Judy Gilliom

“If any disabled person is honest with himself, the life we had before we were disabled wasn’t all that golden. If we got back to it through some Fairy Godmother, would we be completely happy, whole, healthy people? Able bodied people are not cosmically healthy.”

—Binny Clark

“I’m a counselor —I have that role. I’m an unmarried counselor, so consequently, I’m out beating the streets looking for women. I’m in the dating scene. I’m a young person. So I have a lot of different roles. There are a lot of different possibilities for our involvement with life—we’re not just relegated to one particular role as a disabled person. And all these different people coming in from different lifestyles are making disability a real thing. It’s not being a poor little poster person on a wall somewhere, it’s livin’. It’s a lifestyle! And there are a lot of different lifestyles because there are a lot of different people. I think that’s changing people.”

—Rick (now married) Harry


“In my conscious mind, I never say to myself, Gee, I wish I were walking. In my dreams, I’m doing things, without pain, I’m sometimes making love, and I’ll get up in the morning and be extremely depressed. Maybe the most depressed moment of the day is when I wake up from a very happy dream.”

—Frank Musinsky

“I had this really perverse dream where I was up walking around. It was in my hospital room and I was doing things. Then the nurse came in, so I jumped back in bed and then got out again when she left. Most of my dreams, I’m not hurt. Some dreams I can’t do — there are things in it that I can’t do and it puzzles me, usually. It’s like a vague reminder, not a crushing blow.”

—John Galland

“At first, I was always running in my dreams. Then I slowed up, then walked with difficulty. Now I’m aware that I’m dreaming, and I’m still walking with difficulty, but I realize, I mean I know, that the dream is real and that the other reality in a wheelchair is a dumb charade. It’s not really depressing. It’s not really elevating, either.”

—Barry Corbet

“Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.”

—T.S. Eliot


“If anything, my injury has brought our family closer together, because before the injury I was so wrapped up in the little games the business world plays that I was seldom home and I didn’t really see my kids growing up. And after getting slowed down enough to where I could be around home, why, it’s a unique experience to get to understand what your kids think and why they’re thinking this way and getting their side of life.”

—Bill Smith

“Kids are the most honest people. And kids, once they get over their initial curiosity, have no problem with people in wheelchairs. You wonder why adults can’t be like that, why we lose some of that childhood innocence and intelligence.”

—Steve Epstein

“Sometimes they can bug you to death, and they can really make you crazy if you let them. But all you have to do is grab them and put ’em in the chair and give ’em a ride, show ’em a couple of wheelies, and you have ’em for life. They’re your fans forever. I think probably the most exciting thing to the kids in the Crested Butte school is my wheelchair. They just think this wheelchair is really neat. And since I have a spare now, I’m going to send the old one down to the school for a few days and let the kids learn about wheelchairs.”

—W. Mitchell


“Just before I go, I don’t want to go because I don’t know what’s waiting for me in San Francisco. But I’m awfully glad I go to San Francisco. So it’s just overcoming that initial fear.”

—Rob Lewis

“I just came back from the Trust for Historic Preservation meeting in San Francisco, where I was asked to speak. I was in Indianapolis a few weeks ago speaking to Park Directors, trying to inspire them to make the parks more accessible to all our citizens. Today, I’m in Denver talking to the Mayor’s Committee for the Physically Handicapped. Then I go to Albuquerque on Friday for a meeting on neighborhood energy conservation … and then to Washington to testify before the House Interior Committee … and I come back here keynoting a talk in Denver on the twenty-sixth, and hope to get re-elected in Crested Butte on November the sixth, otherwise I’ll be in trouble.”

—W. Mitchell

“I flew into the Colorado Springs airport and my wheelchair was not on the plane with me. And I waited for the next two airplanes to fly in, which were the last two of the day, and my wheelchair was not there. And so I did see this old beat-up airport wheelchair and asked the fellow at the desk if I could use it until mine arrived. He told me he couldn’t let me do that because he felt he ought to leave it there in case somebody needed it! Well, I think that’s funny.”

—Lyn Dickey