Friday, September 18, 2009

Observations from Camp Randall: UW v. Fresno State 9/12/09

Other than the usual BS I encounter battling the masses of 80,000+ to and from the stadium I don’t have any Camp Randall observations to report this week that have to do with instances of accessible and disability dichotomies. I think that last week was unusual, even based on previous years of experiences, because I encountered so many in the same day. But going into a slightly different direction I am happy to share what was arguably the strangest encounter I’ve ever had leaving the stadium in eleven years of having season tickets.

To quickly set the stage, by the time the game hit the middle of the 4th quarter I started to get pretty hot, which meant that a cold drink was the best quick fix. But with only five minutes or so left in the game the kids that sell drinks had quit running around, and it’s not worth paying the $4 for a Coke at that point anyway. Ditto for the $4 water bottles of water they sell (ridiculous, don’t even get me started). Additionally, there are no water bubblers on my seat level and I sure as hell wasn’t about to go stick my mouth under a bathroom faucet that 1000’s of other fans had used all day. So I decided to just wait it out until we got back to my van. At that time it looked like we would be pulling out a tightly fought victory in mere minutes.

Well that had to be the day that we couldn’t close it out, Fresno state tied the game late, and on to overtime we went. By the time the team won in thrilling fashion after two full overtime periods about a half hour later I was in desperate need of a cool breeze and a chilled beverage. Because there was another big line for the elevator we just decided to take the ramps down instead. As I mentioned previously, I'm at a stage in my life where it’s worth waiting in line for the elevator to reduce wear and tear on my wheelchair. But on hot days like Saturday even waiting in line for more than a couple minutes gets me agitated because of the extra body heat floating around a closed area. Kind of makes my heat issues worse. At least when you take the ramps you often get a strong cross breeze, which was a welcome thing at that moment.

Of course that decision was proven to be a loser when we got caught in the crowd one ramp level down. The breeze was still welcome but the foot by foot slow trotting got frustrating because it gets hard on my chair – it’s either a lot of clicking in and out of gear or barely rolling which I assume gets hard on the drivetrain.

One ramp turn downward and I noticed another gentleman in a wheelchair coming down behind me on the ramp level just above. We exchanged a polite head nod, not unlike how my dad salutes fellow Harley dudes when he’s on his motorcycle. Behind him I noticed a woman in her mid 30’s on a blue scooter and thought nothing else of it. But with each ramp level we went down I noticed that she kept getting closer and closer. About halfway down she was a dozen and a half feet behind me on the same level, aggressively weaving her way through the throngs of people. Now I was trying to execute the same strategy, albeit much more politely, except I was stuck behind a group of senior citizens and was much more focused on not getting hit by the seat cushions they were swinging with each step.

The next thing I knew she was pretty close behind me. Another turn to the next ramp down and she was right on my hip. Barely worth giving a second thought to at first. Then it got weird. At the time I was towards the middle of the aisle but she started forcing me to the inside toward the wall so she had enough room to pass me on the outside. I tried to stay true to my current line but we almost banged wheels so I had to turn it in slightly to avoid collision. And so this went for a little while. Ridiculous. Not sure why passing me was so imperative. Proper etiquette in that situation typically dictates that you wait your turn. Instead she turned it into some wheelchair/scooter version of NASCAR. Which incidentally I can’t decide if it would be the kind of über lame sport you’d only see at 3am on ESPN2 after World’s Strongest Man or a YouTube nation ratings blitzkrieg. I'm inclined to lean toward the latter.

Anyway, we damn near trade paint for about a hundred more feet until she makes another series of aggressive moves and shoots her way past me and through the crowd in front of us. By the time I popped out at the bottom of the ramps I saw her across the way rolling full tilt, weaving through traffic, and cutting people off.

Bigger picture what this whole scenario did was further exacerbate this unspoken rivalry I feel like I’ve always had with scooter people. And my main premise for that rivalry can best be illustrated with a question/answer that I might have seen on my high school ACT exam: wheelchair is to permanent mode of disability mobility, as scooter is to mostly temporary mode of disability mobility.

Now that is not to insinuate that all scooter users have temporary disabilities because many folks do rely on scooters for their primary mobility purposes. But what I am saying is that in the vast, vast majority of instances where I have seen people in scooters they have pretty substantial use of their legs and can even walk certain distances without their scooter (e.g. a lady in my building used her scooter and mostly effortless walking ability interchangeably). People that have significant, permanent, physical disabilities that effect their every day all day ability to walk and move around are going to be seen using a wheelchair for their mobility device because wheelchairs have custom accessories (e.g. seat cushions, backrests, individual foot rests) designed to maintain all day support and body integrity. Most scooters I’ve seen come with a standard foam seat like you see on the captain’s chair on a pontoon boat, a flat floor surface for the feet, and steering handles. Everything about it screams ‘temporary ride.’

Now I have over thirteen years worth of experience in the disability world and thus a much more sophisticated eye when it comes to spotting the intricacies of other disabilities. So I could quickly assess that this particular scooter woman appeared to be mostly able-bodied due to the fact that she had full hand function and because one of her feet was casually cocked up on the right front of her scooter (i.e. she could move her legs). But I would venture to say that if your average person with no experience with disabilities whatsoever looked at me in my wheelchair and then another person in a scooter right next to me they would probably see that we both were sitting, we both weren’t walking, and we both were riding four wheeled mobility devices and they would no doubt just surmise that we both have the “same thing going on” disability-wise.

So when I see what under a pretty objective set circumstances appears to be a mostly able-bodied person on a scooter, coming from the wheelchair section, weaving people aggressively down the ramp, rudely saying ‘excuse me’ (she wasn’t but I’ve seen plenty of people do that before), forcing me inside so she can pass me, running full tilt with lots of people around, cutting people off, etc. and catching looks from “average” people that range from an eyebrow raise to an angry ‘what the heck?’ it always bothers me because I feel like she’s giving those of us with significant, permanent disabilities a bit of a bad wrap as well without being “qualified” to do so.

For the record, I do not subscribe to the tenets of this wheelchair-scooter rivalry alone. And according to a fellow quadriplegic blogger I follow occasionally I'm even involved in a quadriplegic-paraplegic rivalry I was previously unaware of (in short, they can grasp stuff with their hands, we cant; they can fully care for themselves, we can’t; we’re lazy because most of us use power chairs, they push themselves with manual chairs; etc.). But the bottom line is that as long as the “scooter chicks” of the world want to get all DAYS OF THUNDER on me as I leave the hallowed halls of Camp Randall Stadium, my place of personal catharsis and sanctitude, then the rivalry will continue to reign supreme!


  1. On Wisconsin! On Wisconsin! Plunge right through that…wait…what? Eleven years of season tickets?!? I couldn’t even get all 4 years as a student.

    Where’s the checkered flag lady?


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