There was a time only about
20 years ago when it was very dangerous for cripples in motorized wheelchair to
venture out of the house. Danger lurked
around every turn. You literally took your life in your hands.
Back in those days, new horror
stories surfaced every week about runaway wheelchairs that were suddenly kicking into
gear and taking their screaming occupants on unsolicited roller coaster rides. A guy who
sold wheelchairs said to me, in a foreboding tone of voice, “One guy went right
over a cliff!” He snapped his fingers. “Just like that! Gone!”
An image burst open in my
brain of a cripple in a motorized wheelchair sailing over the Grand Canyon like
a motorcycle jumper, like a crippled hang glider without a hang glider, like Thelma and Louise. I resolved that if I ever went to
see the Grand Canyon, I’d be sure to wear a parachute.
Still I wondered if these
stories were more of those bullshit cripple myths, where everyone’s heard of
the cripple in the story but nobody’s ever met him. And I never knew anybody who knew anybody who
knew anybody who knew anybody whose wheelchair went berserk like that.
But even the Food and Drug
Administration was hearing the stories. There were no reported deaths but there
were stories of chairs taking off over curbs and off piers. And sometimes it
happened when an emergency vehicle like a police car or ambulance was in the
Holy shit! Imagine that!
You’re a happy fishing cripple just whistling the day away. An ambulance goes
by somewhere in the distance and the next thing you know, you’re waist deep in
the lagoon. Now what do you do? Well, whatever you do, don’t call an
Now I’m not a religious man
but if my chair started spinning and bucking and popping wheelies and barreling
into traffic, I’d call a priest. Screw the FDA. Have a priest exorcize the damn
thing, waving an urn of burning incense over it while reciting Latin. Or maybe
I’d call NASA. Because the other culprit I’d suspect would be smart ass
Martians, looking down from their hovering saucers and laughing their asses off
as they zap cripples with a special ray that make wheelchairs dance a crazy
The FDA inspected a bunch
of wheelchair and determined that what caused them to go haywire was electromagnetic
interference (EMI), emitted not just from certain two-way radios like those in
ambulances but also from cell phones. Cell phones! And so the FDA made
manufacturers put a big yellow warning sticker on motorized wheelchairs that said something like CAUTION: STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM AMBULANCES AND CELL PHONES.
I remember those stickers.
But I guess the problem was fixed by installing a shield on new chairs that
protects against EMI. So the sticker is now gone which is damn good thing. What
if cripples had to avoid cell phones today? We’d all have to move to the