Saturday, 19 March 2011

Ch1: Wheelchairs

Of the scenes that make up this work, we've talked about walking and about falling over. But these days most of the principal chumbados are using wheelchairs. Some of them use manual wheelchairs and some of them use motorized ones.

For each person, the wheelchair has a different place in their life. Júlia uses a motorized wheelchair, even though she can still walk with her crutches. (Sometimes she gets out of her chair and lifts it up a step, much to everyone's surprise). For her, the chair lets her live independently and go shopping by herself; she's dealing with pain from tendinitis and bursitis from having used crutches for over forty years.

Mateus uses a motorized wheelchair and that lets him get to work and have an independent social life. He still needs help at home with things like washing and going to the toilet, but he can go out and meet friends without the help of anyone else.

Fernando, like Mateus has a Muscular Dystrophy, but a bit more of a severe one. He uses a motorized wheelchair but goes out and about with his mother: he still needs help on ramps and with other things, and he's perhaps not as much of a risk-taker as Mateus. But his chair means he can get about independently at work (his mother comes back to lunch with him) and doesn't need people to push him.

It so happened that nearly all of the chumbados I got to know (partly because of many of them having Muscular Dystrophies) weren't really able to push their own manual wheelchairs because they didn't have strength in their arms. But some still chose to have them over motorized wheelchairs, and they gave various reasons.

Cost was a problem, but seen as something that could perhaps be gotten around; through economizing or other ways of raising money. More important was that a motorized wheelchair is heavy and inconvenient. It doesn't fit in a car (you have to take batteries out, which is a nuisance), and it's much harder to be carried up stairs in a motorized wheelchair than a much lighter manual one. And finally, many people didn't see it would give them any benefit: if there weren't lowered curbs or flat bits near their houses, what would they use it for? (We'll see later how the use of motorized wheelchairs spread through friendship groups, and one imitating the other). People are very conscious of how their choice will interact with the conditions in Rio.

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