The other night my wife and I were watching the local evening news when a story about a man with a recent spinal cord injury came on. It was the typical pathetic-yet-“inspirational” cripple story. The purpose? To raise money for yet another “special” poor soul, the kind of footage that makes nondisabled media consumers feel fortunate, free from messy complications — maybe even blessed by divine favoritism — and motivated to either send money or change the channel. My wife and I rolled our eyes.
The man in the news story was a para — most likely mid-to-lower thoracic SCI — but seemed more like a quad. Why? He had been discharged from rehab after seven weeks — a wee babe on wheels. His wife had quit her job to be his “full-time caregiver”; they had to abandon their home because they were stymied by a two-step entry and narrow doorways; he needed help with bathing, transferring and putting on his socks and shoes; and he dreamed of one day learning how to drive with hand controls.
I thought back to 1965 and remembered that before I left rehab I had learned how to transfer into and out of a tub, transfer in and out of a car and load my chair, put on my clothes, transfer down to the floor and back up into my chair, and more. On the day of discharge, I drove with hand controls for the first time. But the main difference was that I was discharged after 18 weeks, not seven.
Yes, we’ve made progress — in kicking people out of rehab before they’re ready. More like being ripped from the womb and thrown naked and screaming into an inhospitable world. But expectations have changed. In post-ADA America, newly discharged people with SCI have been conditioned to think they must have an accessible home with a roll-in shower and a lowered minivan to survive. In pre-ADA days, we built plywood ramps to get into our ho