Book Dispels Myths of Wheelchair Life

There are many stereotypes about living life in a wheelchair,” says Gary Karp, the author of the excellent, comprehensive book, “Life On Wheels” (1999, O’Reilly, $24.95).

“Either we are broken and suffering a horrible pitiable tragedy, or we are heroes,” he continues. “We are not perceived for our personalities, talents and strengths, but by our disabilities. ... Many wheelchair users are getting on with productive lives — working, marrying, traveling, playing sports, and being full members of their communities.”

I met Karp at a National Speakers Association conference we attended to polish our public speaking skills. Among his many other talents, Karp is an accomplished speaker on the nationwide circuit.

Vital, persuasive and at ease in his wheelchair, Karp talks more about his mission. “I wrote my book to break through these stereotypes and to show that with the right tools, information and internal psychological adjustments, wheelchair users can lead active, productive lives.

Karp is an obvious role model for his beliefs. He became a wheelchair user after falling out of a tree at age 18 and injuring his spinal cord. After 13 weeks of hospitalization and rehabilitation, he attended college, received a degree in architecture and hasn’t stopped since.

The subtitle and cover of his book echo his believes. He has written for “the active wheelchair user.” There are pictures of an athletic woman playing tennis in a wheelchair and a college student with a backpack wheeling across campus. Against a backdrop of computers, there is a smiling man strapped in his wheelchair, breathing through a tracheotomy and respirator.

But make no mistake, the book does not paint a rosy view of wheelchair life. It is useful for all chair users, and it is chock full of practical information on the nitty-gritty of hourly life in a chair. Chapter titles include: The Disabilities; Rehabilitation; Medical Concerns; Staying Healthy; Wheelchair Selection; Home Access; Intimacy, Sex, Babies; and Spinal Cord Research. The chapter on medical concerns addresses common physical difficulties that include autonomic dysreflexia, bladder cancer, urinary tract infections, pressure sores and pain. Karp clearly describes why and how these health risks occur and strategies to prevent them. He also offers advice on how to develop a good working relationship with your doctor.

Although the book is addressed to “wheelers” or chair users, it is a must-read for family, friends, and professionals. I am reading it to better understand my clients’ experiences and challenges. And while this book is practical, it is also inspirational. Karp says, “The human spirit is remarkable in our capacity to adjust. We learn that we can express ourselves even if we are unable to walk. We learn that we can survive and strive on wheels, just as well as we could on our feet.”

To purchase the book, go online to www.lifeonwheels.org or Amazon.com or call (800) 998-9938. The book is also available in larger bookstores.