Sunday, July 24, 2011

Friendship can help erode barriers

A reader in Ohio has muscular dystrophy.

There are more than 30 diseases that fall under the categorization of muscular dystrophy, but roughly 50 percent of all cases of childhood muscular dystrophy are reported to be Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Currently, there is no cure and a person's muscular dystrophy grows worse as his muscles weaken. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 400 to 600 boys born in the United States each year are born with Duchenne and Becker (which typically occurs later than Duchenne) forms of muscular dystrophy.

For years, my reader writes that he was able to get around without the aid of a wheelchair. But over time, his muscles have deteriorated to the point where he is beginning to need his wheelchair full time to get around.

"My friends and family mean everything to me and I depend on them a great deal," my reader writes. "My friends and family are doing whatever they can to make their homes accessible for me so I am not left out of activities."

But my reader knows that his wheelchair can be unforgiving when he tries to navigate around doorways or across hardwood floors. He knows that rubber tires might sometimes leave marks on rugs or carpeting. Inevitably, he says that he knows that he will damage something in someone's home.

"I will feel terrible about any damage I cause," he writes.

He wants to know what he should do when he damages something. Complicating matters is that many times, he will have no idea that he's damaged something unless someone points it out to him.

"I want to be invited, and I also want to be a good guest," he writes. "But I can't fix every scratch I may make or clean every tire track I leave on the rug."

He wonders what he should do.

The right thing for my reader to do is to enjoy the company of his friends and family as much as he possibly can.

Like anyone else, he should take care not to mindlessly damage or dirty wherever he happens to be visiting. But it's clear that he already is considerate and knowledgeable about the havoc a wheelchair might cause in an area not built to accommodate wheelchairs.

Because he has a good relationship with his friends and family, when he is invited to their homes, he should let them know -- if they don't already -- that his wheelchair may leave a scuff mark or two and that it's challenging for him to navigate through narrow doorways or tight turns. Any accommodations they can make without going to great expense would reflect their desire to continue to have him be part of their gatherings.

If he does notice that any damage has been caused, then, like any gracious guest, the right thing is to apologize for any inconvenience caused.

As his disease progresses, he will likely have many challenges facing him. With the support of his family and friends, worrying about whether or not he can be at ease in their homes should not be one of those challenges.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.


Alan Owsweichik said...

Agreed. He is not doing anything intentional and feels bad for something out of his control.

Your answer is 111100% right on.

Anonymous said...

The questioner has clearly stated the problem. His concerns are possible damages his wheelchair might do to a friend's house. To the questioner's conerns, I would add if there is the slightest question his wheelchair caused damage in any way, he should apologize and offer to pay for any damage.

Charlie Seng

Anonymous said...

I am sure his friends are already
aware of the problems with
wheelchairs. They most likely will
make accommodations to facilitate
his needs.

I say, "go, enjoy your friends."
They are more interested in you than any minor problems with a


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