My First Time in a Wheelchair

As many of you know, I’ve a disability that affects my mobility. In 2016, I decided enough was enough and I would make use of mobility devices so that I could have a better quality of life and stop saying, “I can’t,” to events. The reason it took me so long to get there mentally was because I was giving into other people’s ideas that exercise can cure me forever and ever. So, I suffered needlessly as a result. A singular thought– I am the boss of my body changed my attitude for the better.

Around my house, I very rarely use a cane. I mostly rely on my own power. Outside of the home, I carry a cane because it helps me to keep better hip posture and I walk faster. It also helps me when my knees randomly conk out. My next purchase will be a rollator (a walker with wheels) so I can spend more time at conferences or CONs, and to be able to stop and sit in the thing. Standing in line is extremely painful for me.

This past December, I sustained three sprains in my feet after a mishap on some stairs at a restaurant, which created a whole new world of nope for me. However, I was not going to miss seeing Kinky Boots at the NAC on Dec 31. I remembered that they had wheelchairs at the NAC, and when my husband and I went to the show, I used one to get around.

I must say the staff at the National Arts Centre are wonderfully helpful. They were stellar. But I didn’t have a great experience. Not because of NAC staff, but because of the NAC patrons. Humankind disappointed me that afternoon. I thought certain behaviour around people who are disabled would be common sense, but apparently it’s not. So, the next section of this article will be called:

Bleeding obvious things you shouldn’t do when someone is in a wheelchair

wheelchair-pinkI’m sorry if this insults your intelligence, but some people need to be schooled.

1. Talk down to us

Speak to me like I’m a grown-up person, okay? I’m just a woman sitting in a wheelchair. I can understand what you’re saying without you talking to me as if I’m four. You don’t have to patronise me because you feel sorry for me, either. I don’t feel sorry for me, so let’s put that one away, mkay? Thanks, doods.

2. Squeeze past me on a narrow ramp

OMIGOSH, can you not wait the 30 seconds my husband needs to negotiate the chair and me down the accessibility ramp? So many people pushed past us in a very tight space. This ramp is for people like me, not able-bodied people trying to dash by as if their trousers just caught fire. WAIT! Wait for us to go through. What is the matter with you???

3. Push past us into the smallest elevator in town and insist there’s room

This is when I wanted to slap people upside the head with my cane. My husband and I were all alone, waiting at an elevator, when several people arrived. The elevator doors opened and they piled inside, shouting, “There’s room, there’s room!” Yeah, no, you clueless trolls, there wasn’t enough room, because the wheelchair needs to be turned to fit inside the thing. I barked at them and told them we’ll take the next one. They looked sheepish, but I was fit to be tied.

4. Use the washroom assigned to disabled people

You know how I know when someone who is able-bodied is using the accessibility bathroom? The expression of extreme guilt on their face coupled by a bolting escape. This was rich, too. The only bathroom I could access because of construction at the NAC was through a parking garage, by a men’s washroom. Now, peeps, you know that men take no time to pee and flee from their washrooms, right? Welp, one fellow decided to use the accessibility washroom and the look on his face when he saw us waiting outside told it all. My husband was the one to pick up on that. I was still fuming from the ramp-crowding people. (This wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced this at the NAC, btw.)

Come on, people, you can do better than that.

I wrote a letter of complaint to the NAC about my experience, asking them if they would post signs and such at elevators and bathrooms, telling people to give priority to people in wheelchairs. The person who wrote back sympathised with my complaint and will take actions to inform staff to be diligent. They agreed with me that these things should be obvious.

Are we so disconnected from each other these days that we’ve forgotten common courtesy? Are we so self-centered that our being in a rush for everything makes us too impatient to (1) wait a few seconds for a wheelchair to pass, and/or (2) to catch the next elevator? Do we just have no more freaking manners?

I’d like to believe we can do better than this. However, it seems like we need reminders. So, here’s the thing, in a nutshell:

Make life not so much about you, but remember to consider others. Treat people with dignity and respect. If you have the privilege of being able-bodied, then kindly give priority to people with disabilities and don’t use their designated spaces as shortcuts for your own convenience.

Do we have that? Good. Because holy schnikies, peeps. Don’t make me come over there. I might have a disability, but I can go from friendly to cranky in six seconds if you disrespect me. Irish, you know.

/cg

CGAuthorCait Gordon is an Irish-Canadian warrior princess and author of Life in the ‘Cosm, a space opera about aliens with issues (Renaissance Press). She’s also the editor of the Spoonie Authors Network blog.

9 thoughts on “My First Time in a Wheelchair

  1. Well said! I totally agree, there is no respect left in this world. I wrote a similar item in my blog, but you really hit it with yours. I don’t like the way people look at me when I use the disabled bathroom stall because I’m not carrying a cane, I still need those rails on the walls to help me sit and stand. Once I’m down, I’m staying there without a boost of a handrail. Respect and consideration, that’s all we ask.

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  2. My husband uses a wheelchair so let me add a thought or two. Please don’t assume that a person in a wheelchair is helpless; it is condescending. It’s nice to help, but more respectful if you first ask the person if they’d like your help. Despite his chair, my husband is very able and in great shape. He does not need anyone to rush to open a door for him. If you get to the door first, yes hold it open, but don’t kill yourself to get there first. Also, never start pushing someone’s chair without asking first or take it for a spin if the owner has vacated it to sit in another seat (many people prefer to transfer to a “regular” chair). Another thing to be aware of, especially in crowded public places, is that the person in a chair is face level with your butt; please be conscious of the personal space bubble.

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  3. Great points! I have been in a wheelchair for 4 years, and the ignorance of wheelchair etiquette still shocks me. Everything that you wrote about happens to me on a daily basis, and the elevator problem is so common and absolutely infuriating! One of my other pet peeves is people (often strangers) touching me. I’ve been patted on my head and touched on my shoulders and hands; hand touching is especially annoying if they touch my joystick hand, since the slightest pressure from their hand can push me careening into anything nearby. On top of the unsolicited touching, I’ve been kissed on the forehead more times than I can count. I’m not a baby in a buggy! It’s gross and tells me that I’m a helpless child, when really I’m a capable adult. So ‘many of the things that people do around, or to, people in chairs tells us that we are second rate citizens, unable to do anything independently, and probably have an intellectual disability on top of the physically disability. Unfortunately, the media helps perpetuate these views. Until enough people are educated about disabilities, nothing is likely to change.

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    • Thanks for writing! I’m so sorry this happens to you all the time. That’s terrible. I only had the one experience and I was like, “What?!” For over three years I worked at an art studio for adults with developmental disabilities and I interacted with the artists just by being myself. So, even if one is in a wheelchair with a developmental disability, it’s still no excuse for that condescending behaviour. I’m wondering if wheelchairs should come with Whacking Pillows. 🙂

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  4. Whacking pillows… I like itI’ve often wished for spikes to poke people who dart in front of me 😉

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