Self-Defense and Safety

As a pilot, I became acutely aware of how important it is to maintain situational awareness. My first flight instructor told me very early in my training to “keep my head on a swivel.” In an airplane, if you become focused on only what is right in front of you, bad things can happen. Airplanes do not fly in designated lanes like cars on a road. Collision avoidance is the responsibility of the pilot in command and other airplanes can approach from any direction. They may be descending from above or climbing from below or overtaking you from behind.

Since I have been in a wheelchair, I have found that I need to be more aware of my surroundings than when I was able-bodied. With limited mobility, I cannot necessarily respond as quickly to situations that may arise therefore, once again, I find it important to “keep my head on a swivel.”

As a general rule, because of my limited mobility, I find people very eager to lend a hand. Unfortunately on the other hand I am sure there are plenty of people that see me in a wheelchair and decide it would be easy to take advantage of me. In certain situations, I sometimes feel like I have a target on my back that says, “Come and get it!” Especially when I am by myself, with my guitar on my back or a camera around my neck. I am sure that more than one unsavory character has spied the pack I keep hung on the back of my wheelchair with my catheters and other bladder supplies in it thinking it would be an easy snatch and grab. Boy, would they be disappointed!

Besides keeping my head on a swivel, I have worked on a few things that help me feel more safe and ready for things that may confront me on a day-to-day basis. One thing I rely on is the buddy system. As much as possible, I don’t go into situations alone where there may be an undesired element. For example, after leaving an open mike event at a club downtown at night, I will ask somebody to carry my guitar to my car. Not only do I feel safer, I don’t have to carry my guitar! I guess you could sum it up in this adage, “Prior planning prevents poor performance.” I try to think about the situations I may get into before putting myself into them.

As well as a heightened sense of awareness, I have several “tools” that I have found help me to deal with situations early before they can get to a dangerous level. One tool is my cell phone. I never leave home without it. As a matter of fact, I usually have it on me even if I am at home in case I find myself in that unfortunate situation where my butt is on the floor instead of in my wheelchair. I also have a flashlight, a whistle, and pepper spray attached to my wheelchair. These tools can help me create time and space between me and a threat that may prevent a bad outcome. I have also chosen to get my Concealed Carry Permit and carry a concealed weapon. Having grown up with guns, this is a decision I made long ago before I became wheelchair dependent but now I find it even more crucial. Of course, this is a tool that I hope I never need to use and may not be the right decision for everyone.

Along with all these tools, I find it very important to train with them so I can be prepared before I get into a situation where I may need to use them to stay safe. When you are placed in a stressful situation is not the time to learn how to access and operate your pepper spray canister or worse. I try to train on a regular basis with a trusted friend on evasive techniques and accessing defensive tools, as well as, studying and training different self-defense techniques. Very basic stuff but things I think could help me not be a victim.

Just because my mobility is impaired does not mean my ability to defend myself is non-existent. Forethought and regular training makes me feel more confident of a better outcome if I am ever faced with an unsavory character set on doing me harm.


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