Valley Voices

Say ‘bless you,’ and don’t hit people with your wheelchair

Joe Hemphill at his computer workstation at home where he writes his letters.
Joe Hemphill at his computer workstation at home where he writes his letters. jwalker@fresnobee.com

We should be nice to one another. It really is not that hard.

The other day, while I was waiting to see the doctor, my care provider helped hold the door for someone with a walker. It didn’t take much time. Then I started thinking. How nice it would be if you and I would take the time to help someone else. What a better place the world would be. I also wondered if I already do this and if I could improve.

I have cerebral palsy. And, even though I cannot speak clearly, I always say, “Hello,” to people and smile. I do this in situations where people expect to hear something like that. Also, I try to ask people, “How are you?” This may just take a minute of your time, but it could cause the other person to feel better.

When I am out having coffee, I try to wipe my mouth, so the mess won’t make others uncomfortable. Mom taught me this. In addition, when I am out having my coffee, I attempt to keep the table clean and pick up after myself. Having a handicap is no excuse to be messy. Another lesson from my mother.

Besides, there is a better chance for a nice female to stop and talk with me if the table, where I am sitting, and I are clean. I don’t know if mother had this aspect in mind, but it works for me.

When I am driving my power wheelchair on the sidewalk, I try not to hit anyone. My chair weighs about 300 pounds, and I weigh around 165. I don’t think anyone would appreciate being hit by that much weight.

Another thing that we sometimes fail to do is to say, “please” and “thank you.” These simple words tell others what kind of people we are. Saying “please” and “thank you” can make you feel good about yourself, too.

Some people shake hands when they meet. With cerebral palsy making it hard to control my movements, this could be difficult for me. I usually just bow my head. There are a few people I shake hands with, such as the gentleman who prays with me and another old friend who visits occasionally.

You can say “Bless you,” when someone sneezes. That will have two effects. It will help others to know that you are tuned in to what is happening. That is extremely important for people with disabilities.

Second, saying “Bless you” shows that you care about others. For those with disabilities, it would be easy just to focus on ourselves and our needs. Since I was quite small, I tried hard to be concerned about others.

One way I reach out to others is to write emails to people I know. I encourage them in whatever they are doing or what might be worrying them.

Another important thing that I and others can do is just listen to people. There are a lot of people who do not have anyone to just listen to them. Here is where I can come in. During any particular day, a lot of people listen to me. I need to give back.

Hold a door for someone. Smile and say “Hello.” Say “please” and “thank you.” “God bless,” can be said. Shaking hands just takes a second. Writing an email is not that time consuming, even for someone who has disabilities. I have discovered that listening to others and being nice is not that hard to do.

Joe Leroy Hemphill is a resident of Fresno.

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