Disability activist Melanie Gaunt shares her experiences of getting out in the world again on her Alinker.
I recently went to get groceries for only the second time since February 2020. I was so excited. My eyes were glazed over with anticipation. It was the first time I took Madiba, my Alinker, shopping to do groceries (it was a big day for us).
The most exciting thing was after about half an hour, I realized I COULD SEE THE TOP SHELF. It was the first time in 11 YEARS that I was able to see the top two shelves at the store. I just about cried. I should have taken a picture- with and without tears.
I’m tall, so spending the last ten years in a wheelchair took away a lot of stuff that I never thought of as part of my identity until they were gone. Seeing and reaching for something on the top shelf was a regular activity of my life. My mother is 5’ 3” and my entire adult life was about getting something from the top shelf when I visited.
Well, at least I was able to see the top shelf. But I doubt I’ll be reaching for it anytime soon. However, It was also the first time I saw how much the prices for groceries have increased. Ouf. That really made me appreciate Madiba and everyone who has contributed to my or anyone else’s campaign. It made me so thankful as I thought about all the Random Acts of Kindness over the last 2.5 years. Not just for me but for everyone who has experienced the Invisibility
Cloak of Disability.
I have really become so thankful to everyone who contributed to my campaign, and to BE for doing good by having crowdsourcing as an option. I love the Alinker community. Even if I’m not taking advantage of everything I know we are there for each other if we have any questions or we need support.
We arrived at the grocery store. You know how your regular grocery store eventually becomes as familiar as the creaks of your parents staircase?! Well, my regular shop had rearranged since February 2020. How dare they!! Did something happen in the last 2.5 years?! Jerks. Thankfully I had Madiba and my friend with me. I was ready for the challenge.
Bring it Sobey’s.
My friend chose to walk behind me because she was thoroughly enjoying witnessing how everything was just so awe-inspiring to me, how much fun I was having, as if it was my first trip to a grocery store. Ever (Imagine if she had taken me to something like Costco). She was getting a kick seeing the faces of everyone as they saw Madiba, and I.
(I’ve gotten to the point in my Alinker journey that I’ve started to become blind to the originality and coolness of my Alinker, so I’m somewhat surprised when people are so taken with my bright yellow buddy.)
Then, flushed with Post-Lockdown-Courage , we went next door to the dollar store (don’t tell my Mum) for some snacks and swag. The irony that I’m referring to items as swag is not lost on me. Trust.
My friend saw this little gem and thought it was perfect for me. Well, Wheelchair Me.
Wheelchair me comes out in the evening and at night. Even that is becoming too much for my liking. In fact, I’ve had to tell some of my friends and family that I need them to stop thinking of the possibility of taking my wheelchair on excursions or day trips. I’ve had to remind them that the point of getting an Alinker is specifically so that I can exercise and be able to do things beyond the nursing home (in more ways than one) that I wasn’t able to do in a wheelchair.
I feel like the wholeness of Melanie doesn’t exist IN a wheelchair, but WITH my Alinker. When someone sees me with Madiba, they see personality. My character is my own. My voice can be heard. If I’m in my chair, I have to resume the limited identity as Melanie-In-a-Wheelchair, the sibling of Disabled-Melanie.
Melanie-In-a-Wheelchair is most often frustrated and cranky. To be honest, she is a bit of a bully; Melanie-In-a-Wheelchair doesn’t have an identity. Melanie-In-a-Wheelchair is invisible to the outside world. Melanie-In-a-Wheelchair is often mistaken for Disabled-Melanie, who apparently only understands the English language when she is spoken to as if she is a small child.
I recently went for coffee with a friend of mine who also has MS and naturally understands how and why I love my Alinker, and how and why I have become hesitant to use my wheelchair beyond my ‘house’ at the nursing home.
We got our coffees to go and then we went to a park on the water. We sat on a bench in the grass (doing that in a wheelchair? Impossible) while we caught up. Then we walked along the water for about 20 minutes on different surfaces that I hadn’t yet tried. That was new and definitely a learning experience. It was a well deserved nap that afternoon.