“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge” – Stephen Hawking
I was quite shaken by the death of Stephen Hawking which has surprised me. I knew of the man (you would have to be living under a rock not to know who he was) but I didn’t know him personally. I have read some of his books but he has never been on the top of my reading list, the closest I get to “theoretical physics” is watching The Big Bang Theory.
I do take more of an interest in basic physics these days due to the functioning impact it has on my life. As I have aged I have become increasingly aware of things like mass, motion, angles, lift and it goes on. A transfer from my wheelchair to my car involves basic concepts of physics. A height difference of one inch in my wheelchair seat to my car seat can have a major impact on the angle of propulsion I need to calculate for the transfer to be successful. A successful transfer is the difference between finding myself on my car seat or lying on the road. I try to find parking spots with the equivalent angles I’m use to.
A two degree difference on that hill I’m approaching may require a slight increase in motion speed to make it to the top. The topography of a curb-cut angle may require a seating shift to create a different angle of balance or a directional angle in approaching the curb can mean the difference of getting up the curb versus laying on the road. These are all basic physics and done without a lot of thought. I don’t sit there calculating those things, I just know from experience and do it. However these are the little things of daily life most non-disabled don’t recognize, why would they. There is always a purpose I do many of the things I do my way. The more advanced applications of physics I will leave up to Stephen Hawking.
The commonalities I share with Professor Hawking are generational and disability. He has a few years on me but we were pretty close age-wise. It wasn’t his achievement in physics, as impressive as they were, that created the affinity I feel for the man but the quiet advancements he made for disability activism. His death has stirred up a wide assortment of thoughts I have been suppressing for years.
Professor Hawking was diagnosed at a very young age with ALS (21 was very rare). He was told at the time he would never see his 25th birthday but went on to become one of the longest living survivors of that deadly disease. He surpassed that age by fifty years but he was dealing with the healthcare information of the 50’s and 60’s. Advancements happen and times change.
As a polio survivor (1953) I was told I would probably never see my 30th birthday. Well guess what, I’m still here and going strong. Not sure that’s a good thing but it is reality however there is a world of difference between the issues I faced at 30 and what I am confronted with at 67. Continue reading