Remy Stewart, a senior at University of California, Santa Cruz and student of Professor Megan Mcdrew, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “Less Stuff, More Heart: 5 Gifts On a New Dad’s Christmas List,” by Christopher Zumski Finke.
Writing Prompt: Imagine you’re about to celebrate a special holiday, milestone, or birthday. If you could ask for any non-material gift, what would you ask for? What would make this gift so special to you?
To Walk the World on Trembling Legs
If I were to ask for any non-material gift, it would be for the truly accessible ability to travel the world. I am a disabled person with a chronic illness that limits the mobility of my arms and legs, causes me to be more susceptible to catching infectious diseases, and contributes to overall pain and fatigue. My dream gift would be the utmost security that despite my health limitations I would be able to travel to wherever my heart desires.
First would be the process through the airport. I would be able to walk through crowds of people and board the plane without fear of falling ill. Medical masks would not be stigmatized as they are in many Western countries. I would be able to bring mobility devices on flights and be comfortable using them wherever I go. I would be able to use assisted transit services whenever my legs become too wobbly. If the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro called me, there would be a road paved for those without the same strength to scale it. If the subway through Tokyo was my mode of transport, I would always have a seat available and people would believe that I am disabled if I requested one. If I wanted to swim in the Great Barrier Reef, I would have confidence that my needs would be met as I dived into the ocean blue.
There is so much with traveling that I feel able-bodied people take for granted. The limitations of my physical being are only half the battle. There is also how the world meets the needs of a disabled traveler. We are not the norm in the space of adventure and exploration. One does not think of a person with a mobility impairment, contending with psychopathology, or suffering from a chronic illness as someone leading the charge to the ends of the earth. Such assumptions must be challenged, but being the pioneer to break these barriers is no easy task. The question always lingers: “What could possibly go wrong?” Not just in the sense of missing a flight or getting lost in an unfamiliar place, but what will happen if I cannot walk any further, if I fall ill, or if I can’t bear the pain of not being able to experience what I truly desire.
In his article, “Less Stuff, More Heart,” Christopher Zumski Finke is poignant to observe that the presents that many of us crave go beyond the realm of objects and expenditures. However, it’s essential to consider that what many individuals from marginalized backgrounds may distantly long for is often what those in power normally receive. I know that many people dream to travel the world. My aspiration lies beyond the usual limitations, and I may go so far as to say that a goal’s greater inaccessibility for me makes it all the more appealing.
For my non-material gift, I ask for your willingness to stretch out your hand and be an accomplice for the disabled who pursue their own adventures. Confront those who gawk at us and ostracize us when we dare to walk outside our comfort zones —and into public squares—on broken legs. Do not push us beyond what we are able to do, but also do not shirk from taking the extra steps that allow us to partake in the same activities as able-bodied individuals. Understand that for us, this dream is all the sweeter in a world that was never built with us in mind. Your kindness and advocacy would be the most treasured present I could ever receive.