Harmon Larimore once pulled wheelies on a friend’s all-terrain vehicle, just for fun.

Big deal, you might say: Lots of people do that.

But Larimore did it with his feet duct-taped to the machine because he’s a paraplegic - paralyzed from the waist down - as a result of a motorcycle accident when he was 16.

“I’m fiercely independent,” said Larimore. “My house has no modifications whatsoever. I just live and work like everybody else. Although I’m a paraplegic, I’ve been in a band, married and divorced a stripper, was heavily into photography and have been in a body-building magazine. I’ve lived a lot. I’ve overcome a lot.”

Larimore was riding his motorcycle at night, when a 14-year-old driving a full-sized truck with no headlights ran a stop sign.

“I teed into the truck at 60 miles per hour,” said Larimore. “It hurt. Both knees were basically shattered, two vertebra were partially crushed, and my spinal cord was ‘pulped.’”

Larimore didn’t let his near-fatal accident slow him down. He works full-time and occasionally takes off on a four-wheeler, although these days, he refrains wheelie-popping.

According to a recent report by the Associated Press, more than half the country’s disabled people hold jobs, but they often have lower incomes and less education. They are also less likely to have health insurance than their “able-bodied” counterparts.

The information was gathered from data listed in the 2002 Census Bureau report.

Larimore may be the exception to the bureau’s statistics. He refuses to “mooch off the government,” or have taxpayers provide food, housing or medical care.

“I have chosen to work and can’t imagine any other way,” said Larimore. “Since I work full-time, I’m just taxed as a single male. Not only does the government save thousands per year by not having to support me, but they also tax me. It feels like a penalty for working.”

Larimore believes those who are disabled, yet work full-time, should be tax-exempt.

“These people are saving taxpayers a lot of money already,” said Larimore. “Also, as consumers, they are paying taxes on anything they purchase.”

According to Jim Ward, director of public policy for the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems in Washington, D.C., one in three people with disabilities encounters job discrimination. Ward said applicants with disabilities are often refused job interviews, turned down for jobs they qualify for, given lesser responsibilities than their peers, and are passed over for promotions or denied health insurance.

Marshall Clayton, executive director for Golden Rule Industries of Muskogee, helps provide jobs to people with disabilities through the Golden Rule Thrift Shops in Muskogee, Wagoner and Tahlequah.

“We’re not in the thrift shop business,” said Clayton. “We’re in the people business. However, if it weren’t for the thrift shops, we wouldn’t be in the people business.”

Clayton’s company is involved with the United Way, and works closely with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to employ the disabled.

“We had our ribbon-cutting at the Tahlequah store in March, and so far, we’re having to transport workers from other stores to work here,” said Clayton. “We hope to have at least three people from the Tahlequah area working here soon.”

Work programs Golden Rule Industries provide several types of work programs, including community integrated employment, sheltered workshops, waiver programs and janitorial contracts.

“Golden Rule Industries puts more than $700,000 annually back into the tri-county area in the form of payrolls and other services,” said Clayton. “In accomplishing our mission of providing jobs to people with disabilities, we are making our community a better place to live.”

Larimore, who works full-time in technical support, has no trouble maintaining health insurance, and he questions the data in the report by the AP.

“Insurance should not be an issue for anyone employed full-time,” said Larimore. “It seems somebody may have manipulated insurance coverage statistics for the purpose of the story. Perhaps they included those working part-time in their calculation.”

Promotions and discrimination has not particularly been an issue with Larimore. He’s only had one bad experience when applying for a job, which was several years ago in another state.

“I had about 10 years of black-and-white, color and slide film processing experience, and was looking for a photo lab job,” he said. “Wearing a dress shirt and tie, I went to Wal-Mart photo lab and asked if they had any openings. The manager replied, ‘Are you asking for yourself or somebody else?’ I just looked at him and blinked a few times. Other than that, I have not perceived the wheelchair being an issue in the workplace.”

Larimore also finds little limitations when it comes to access to most places, and doesn’t fault older businesses for not always providing ramps.

“I don’t really need anything other than normal-sized doors,” he said. “If a ‘mom-and-pop’ store is not up to code, I don’t worry about it too much. There are still a lot of old places that don’t meet code. However, if a new place does not meet code, it’s a bit irritating.”

During a recent trip to the doctor, Larimore became put out with the caregivers. He was to have allergy testing performed by a medical group that has two locations. When he arrived at the location nearest his home, Larimore found one handicapped parking space, which was already filled.

“There were, however, three reserved doctor parking spaces,” said Larimore. “I took one of them.”

Later, Larimore contacted the office to complain of Americans with Disabilities Act noncompliance. The person he spoke with suggested he park next door, try the other location, or schedule an appointment on a Saturday, when the office wouldn’t be as busy.

“This was from a medical business that makes a lot of money,” he said. “I was not amused.”

Larimore maintains a zest for life, and recently applied as a contestant for the American Chopper Dream Bike. Had he won, the Teutul family of reality-TV’s “Orange County Chopper” fame, would have flown him to New York to have him help build his own dream motorcycle (or, in Larimore’s case, a tricycle).

One of the application questions asked what it would mean to have an American Chopper Fantasy Bike.

“Freedom,” wrote Larimore. “It would be a reunion to 20 years ago. The last time I walked. The last time I rode. The feeling of just me and my motorcycle going down the road with only the sound of the engine and the wind. It was heaven. Plus, it would be a perfect way to show people that there is life after disability, and that being disabled does not mean being helpless. Hopefully, it would inspire some folks.”

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