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We can do better

Photo: me looking down at a bruise on my arm caused by a door that was not ADA compliant.
The bruise is from a door that was not compliant

By now many of you may have seen the video of Carson Briere pushing Sydney Benes's wheelchair down the stairs. I wasn’t there so I don’t know why this happened. I only know what I saw in a video with no sound. Many feelings and emotions struck me when I first saw the video. What is the person that uses that wheelchair going to do? I was disgusted, I was angry, It was revolting, total disbelief and I was hurt. What was he thinking? Why? It didn’t even happen to me. Yet it still left a mark on me. It is something I fear everytime I leave my wheelchair in a public place when trying to access the world that is not accomadating.


My immediate thoughts for Sydney Benes were, OMG how is she going to get home, how is she going to get around? It takes forever to get wheelchairs repaired. What is she going to do? Then I thought about how she had to be carried down the stairs to the bathroom, because the Pub, wasn’t fully accessible. The Pub made reasonable accommodations that enabled Sydney to participate in college life, they carried her down the stairs when she needed to go to the bathroom. Think about that for a minute. She had to ask the security person to carry her down the stairs. HOW OFTEN HAS THAT HAPPENED TO YOU? She lives the life of a person with a disability that accepts the flaws of society and does her best to keep moving forward.


People make mistakes, this one is a doozy in my book. Her wheelchair like mine are means of mobility. It’s our legs. It’s how we are able to participate in a world that is not made for us. I applaud Ms. Benes's ability to want to educate others so they don’t make the same mistake Mr. Briere made by pushing an empty wheelchair down the stairs for no reason. I also agree with her statement, “We are treated like things, like second-class citizens; we're not treated with respect." I know that is hard to hear, and it's hard for me too, but it's true and we can do better.


I also believe given the magnitude of the situation at hand that Mercyhurst University is cautiously moving forward but can do better. They released a statement saying the actions displayed in the video fall short of the school’s “belief in the inherent dignity of each person,” adding the school’s “tradition also reminds us that students and all people who make poor choices deserve opportunities to learn, change behaviors and atone for harmful actions.” It’s not just about having a policy, belief, or tradition. It's about understanding the need for change and changing things. This is not a racial issue or gender issue it's a human issue. It’s about treating all people with dignity. We have gotten so far away from treating people as people instead of their labels. We can do better.


Human decency is to treat others as you would want to be treated. None of us are without fault and we can all do better and deserve a chance to change. But to overlook this incident as just a simple mistake is a mistake. We need to learn from it and do better. I don’t know why he pushed the chair down the steps, I don’t know what he was thinking or how it made him feel. I only know how it made me feel. I try so hard to put feelings aside and prove how normal my life is, but what is normal to me is not normal to you. So it’s time to come up with solutions, not policies, beliefs, and traditions. Mr. Briere needs to sit down, face to face and have an open honest conversation with Ms. Benes. I strongly feel he needs to walk a mile in Ms. Benes's shoes. To see what it is like. To understand the determination, perseverance, and true grit of having a disability. To live a life that is full of potential but at times faces hurdles and obstacles every day. Maybe then he will truly change and be the role model he has the potential to be. I don’t think he will truly understand how his lack of empathy is a reinforcement to others. He needs to change and he’s not the only one. We can do better.


Taking away his scholarship or suspending him from the team will only make him angry for the indifference he showed. Placing blame on the victim instead of taking responsibility for his actions. If it weren’t for the videotape we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. The incident happened on a Saturday and he formally apologized on Wednesday. I think that education is essential, so what he needs is education and to be exposed to the lives of others that face challenges and obstacles he can't imagine. To see the resilience in the soul of the disabled, to understand how judgment hurts to the very core of our being, and to change. It's about incorporating understanding and empathy into his daily life.


There are many unimaginable incidents that are rampant in our society, school shootings, looting, and destruction of personal property for no reason. We need solutions. I think what needs to happen is we all need to sit down and talk openly and exchange ideas for change. We can learn from each other's feelings, thoughts, and opinions without disregarding them. We don’t all need to have the same view but we do need to listen to each other's views to find a solution. We can do better.


Thank you for reading until the end!


This is the view from my wheelchair, where miracles can make a difference. Always Strive for the Impossible. Come back next week to see what is on my mind and hear more about my experiences and The View From My Wheelchair.


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