Let’s face it: Most wheelchair users are way too nice. We all want to do the right thing, be independent, be strong, never ask for pity or a helping hand. That’s certainly admirable, if, say, your goal in life is for people to say glowing things about you at your funeral. Someone might even record it. But if, on the other hand, your goal in life is to have stuff, be comfortable, get Netflix, or go to Hawaii, you may have to reconsider your tactics. Always maintain the façade of the self-effacing yet courageous invalid — it can get you into most restaurants — but, beneath that benign demeanor, learn to play hardball. Don’t wait until they pass a law for you to get what you want. Just go get it.
The basic premise of this exercise: friend or stranger, everyone feels guilty that you are in a chair and the best way to relieve their guilt is for them to give you material aid and comfort. Start small. Use your appearance alone to draw things to you. For instance, go to your local Costco this weekend and proceed to gobble up every free sample offered. You have to have a strong stomach, because the spicy chili relleno sample is often next to the pumpkin cheesecake one. Hang around long enough and soon one of the sample ladies will see your chair and invite you behind the counter for “something special.” You could feed a family of four on these delicious morsels.
If you are good at that — and finding perks elsewhere — then you will probably be great at the most recent Internet invention for accessing little amounts of money from a lot of different people: crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is when you go to sites like Kickstarter.com or Indiegogo.com — there are dozens of them — and set up a worthy project for which you need money. You make a little presentation for the site, come up with a financial goal, and start getting friends, family, and perfect strangers to donate very small amounts of $5 and $10 to realize your dream.
What is your dream? Don’t have one? Well, make it up! It could be anything from creating an adaptive soccer league to finishing and self-publishing that volume of free-form confessional poetry you’ve been working on since college. Whatever it is, make people care and feel better after donating. A good deed is helping you reach something high at the grocery store. A better deed is clicking the $25 box on your crowdfunding page.
Here’s one ploy — free of charge — that might work with your circle of supporters. Announce on one of these services that you need to raise the funding to make a feature film that will blow the lid off of the systematic discrimination that disabled people face every day of their lives, the ugly truth beneath the back patting and the atta-boys. The budget: a modest $30,000 — you yourself will work for free, as will most of the all-disabled crew members. Put together a zippy little slide show to make your point: images of inaccessible staircases or a New York taxi whizzing by a wheelchair user, things like that. Maybe cut it to the tune of Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” And be sure to end your spiel with, “Thank you. This is my life’s work.”
When you have the $30,000 in hand, spend it any way you want. If someone asks you how the film is going, you say, “I’m still doing research and working on the script. These things take a long time, you know.” Know that people donate to crowdfunding sites all the time and never see what their money paid for. It’s like donating to an African relief fund. Do you have any idea whether anyone in Africa gets any kind of relief? No, it just felt good to give.
Once everyone who donated forgets, treat yourself to a new 2014 Acura with hand controls. Eying a Mercedes? Up the budget to $50K.