Like “happiness”, the word “normal” is one of those subjective words defined differently by all. Yet, in the world of disability, “normal” becomes a question. Can someone “live a normal life”, or are they “back to normal”? How do you answer these questions when normal is so hard to define?
On a recent holiday, I witnessed a woman with a disability engage in compelling acts of what I call “normal”. I was so taken by this that I had to take the below picture. What do you notice? The location of the wheelchair makes the owner of this unidentifiable. This was not an isolated event. Everyday I would see this wheelchair stashed somewhere – off to the side, in a deserted hallway, or almost out of sight. The wheelchair was so far removed from the person that it could never “define her” and really was just a means of transportation. I would watch her husband wheel her to the poolside, into the restaurant, or out in the theatre then she would transfer to a “normal” chair and he would move her wheelchair out of sight. True, maybe they just wanted this out of the way, but if the goal was practicality, she would not have taken the time and effort to transfer when sitting in the wheelchair for most things would be easier.
I believe that this woman just wanted to feel “normal”. She didn’t want to be recognized by her chair, and wanted to experience the world the way non-disabled people do – sitting on a pool lounger, in a dining chair, on a couch, or even in the water on a floaty. And who allowed this to happen? Her husband. He pushed her around the resort, secured her chair for transfers, moved this out of the way, and re-secured it when changing locations. I also saw him carry her in and out of the pool so she could float in the water, and he was her personal waiter for drinks, food and other items she needed that she could not obtain herself. In my world this is a perfect example of attendant care. Transfers, mobility, equipment maintenance, and ensuring comfort and security are all parts of the current form used by Occupational Therapists in auto (and WSIB) to calculate attendant care. So, let’s not underestimate the time someone might take to help someone feel “normal”, whatever that means to that person, in that environment and at that time. I believe “facilitating normal” is a valuable and important part of being an attendant and should be fairly represented in our calculations of care.