What I Wish People Who Feel Awkward About My Wheelchair Would Do

I was talking to a friend the other day about how people interact with me as a person with a disability. My friend happens to work with an organization that serves the disabled community by offering recreational opportunities. During the conversation, he told me he had recently taken a class on the subject of interacting with disabled people. I immediately wondered… why would my friend need a class to interact with me? I have been pondering this idea for a couple days and decided to write about my thoughts.

As a person with a disability, I get that it’s awkward sometimes to interact with me. People wonder what’s “wrong” with me. I have observed people who clearly wanted to ask if I needed help with something, but in the end didn’t approach me. It’s OK to ask if I need help. If you saw someone stranded on the side of the road, would you stop to ask if they needed help? It is the same thing with me. If you see me struggling to do something, feel free to ask. I can always say no if I choose.

Kids will often just flat-out ask, and I welcome that. If you don’t ask a question, you’ll never know the answer. I would rather they ask and know than wonder. I have no problem explaining my situation, and hopefully it opens up their mind to realize the only thing different about me is that I don’t walk. (I could walk with braces, but choose not to because I am more mobile in my wheelchair.)

After contemplating this class that teaches people to interact with me, I wondered, is there something I can do to alleviate this issue? Can I make it easier for people to see I am just a human living my life the same way they are, but doing things differently?

I suppose the fact I write a blog about doing different adventures and activities is one way for people to see I am not that different. I am also in the process of getting a job now that I have graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems. I have held jobs in the past, just like anyone else.

I am just like you, other than I get around with a wheelchair — that is if I’m not rock climbing, skiing, skydiving, flying an airplane, or any of the other multitude of activities that don’t involve my wheelchair. Someone treating me differently because they see me in a wheelchair is like someone treating a person differently because they have red hair. A wheelchair is just one part of a whole person. It doesn’t define who I am, only how I get from point A to point B.

You should speak to me and treat me like you would anyone else. If I am being a jerk, tell me. If I do something you think is awesome, tell me that too. If you want to know something about me, please just ask! If I don’t want to tell you, I won’t, but I most likely will. I think if we all started treating each other like humans instead of judging each other based on our differences, the world would be a better place for it. We might even find our differences don’t make us all that different after all.

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Thinkstock photo by Andrey Popov.

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