When you’re disabled like me, technology is interwoven into the very tapestry of our everyday lives. While most folks can’t set aside their addictive iPhones long enough to take a shit, at least those devices aren’t hinges of mobility. Tools of survival.
In order to fully function, our gadgets must be in complete synchronicity… like an orchestra playing well in tune. If one instrument goes awry, the whole concert could be a total flop. Like Lady-Friendly Doritos or Kevin Spacey’s career.
I’m not a novice when it comes to technology fails. Just weeks ago, I grappled with a wheelchair shutdown that, while eventually resolved, led me to have anxiety for nearly a fortnight. I’m glad to have that behind me, but the delicate balance of our disabled, gadget-rich lives always teeters on the edge of the precarious.
This morning I had one of those moments. When the balance shifted decidedly out of my favor. It was an ordinary day and I was doing ordinary things. Drinking my late-morning coffee. Attending to various tasks. When suddenly, the perfect storm happened.
My dominant arm, which I use to support myself, fell out of place on the armrest. This, in turn, caused my chest to topple forward and my neck to get thrust down. Often, I’m able to extract myself from the situation with various wheelchair maneuvers. Like gunning the throttle to thrust my body backwards. Or, shoving my chest up against a table. But, this time it all went spectacularly wrong.
When I attempted to push my chest backward against a high table, my arm slipped further and activated my wheelchair’s tilt seating system so that it lowered and pinned me against the table. Unfortunately, my arm was stuck on the tilt button, keeping it activated and running, even though it was fully lowered. When the tilt is activated, the wheelchair is immovable, meaning the control box was useless. Meaning I couldn’t reverse myself to reach the iPhone that was resting on my lap. Meaning that I couldn’t text or call for help.
I was well and truly fucked.
I began to panic as the seconds ticked by… and the seating tilt motor ground forward in an endless mechanized rhythm. I couldn’t get it to stop. I knew that if it continued for an extended period of time, I could burn out the electronics.
While you might think that I was most concerned about my own current discomfort, no… alas… I was thinking about my wheelchair. And how disastrous it would be if the tilt system went kaput.
The panic grew overwhelming, and my breathing grew labored in the awkward, cramped position I was in.
Although I was currently alone, I knew someone would be popping in within the next hour. But, I didn’t think my panic or my seating system tilt mechanism would last that long.
All sorts of crazy thoughts were accelerating through my head like a runaway locomotive… or those commuter trains that always seem to be derailing in movies starring Denzel Washington.
How long will I have to wait here?
How much would a new tilt cost?
Will the insurance pay for it?
Will it take weeks to be fixed?
What if I panic and die?
What if I panic and die while Donald Trump is still President?!?
I was a righteous mess. I tried to calm myself. Stop the pounding heartbeat I could hear inside of my head.
And then, I remembered it.
My Amazon Echo Dot (similar to the Google Home Mini) was perched 8 feet away. It had been given to me by NMD United, a peer-run non-profit organization that serves adults with neuromuscular disabilities. It’s voice-activated tools are extra helpful to those of us with mobility issues.
It’s always just waiting to do helpful things… like tell me the weather forecast, play me songs by Katy Perry… or… call people for me!
I called out, “Alexa, call someone!”
She replied, “Who do you want to call?”
I began to grow irritated, “I don’t care!”
“Donna Karan is not in your address book.”
I pulled myself together, “Alexa, call 2, 0, 9, 6…..”
After a pause, she asked, “Would you like me to call Daddy Cell?”
“Yes!!!” I exploded.
When the Echo Dot began to ring and I heard my dad’s voice answer, I collapsed against the countertop in relief. I think I even drooled a little.
I’m thankful to say that my dad arrived before any noticeable damage was made to my wheelchair. Although, perhaps time will tell on that front. Luckily, even though it felt like an eternity on my end, I think the entire episode only lasted about 10 minutes. And I’m doing A-OK now.
Technology is a fickle, fickle business. And our hold on it is incredibly tenuous. But, sometimes, when one aspect fails, another may save the day.
Thanks to Alexa.