The Mighty Logo

20 Things You'll Understand If You're a 'Part-Time' Wheelchair User

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

There’s a reason wheelchairs are called “mobility aids” — a wheelchair’s job is to literally to aid you and help you move, however that looks for you. Wheelchairs aren’t reserved only for people who need to use them all the time; in fact, many people are “part-time” wheelchair users and just use them occasionally, when symptoms like pain, fatigue, dizziness, etc. make walking difficult or unsafe. Being a part-time wheelchair user comes with its own set of challenges, from practical (what do you do when you’re not sure if you need to bring it?) to emotional (dealing with the stares you get when you stand up).

The challenges of being a part-time wheelchair user may be hard to understand among those who don’t use wheelchairs — although, doesn’t it seem like a pretty simple concept? (there’s actually a hashtag trending on Twitter called #AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist that raises awareness of the misconceptions around part-time wheelchair use). But for other “part-timers,” there are certain situations most everyone has experienced and can empathize with.

We asked our Mighty community to share something you’ll understand if you’re a part-time wheelchair user. Let us know in the comments what you would add, and share with the people in your life who may not understand that, yep, it’s definitely possible to use a wheelchair just sometimes.

Here’s what our community told us:

  1. “When you stand up to get your wheelchair out of the car or put it in and people look at you as though they’ve just witnessed a miracle! I now shout ‘OMG I’m cured!’” — Kirstie W.
  2. “For some reason people think it’s OK to ask me personal questions when I’m in a wheelchair. Did you have surgery? Are you pregnant? Are you sick today? There’s a lot of uncomfortable attention directed my way in those moments. In reality, my health is no business to the cashier at Publix.” — Sarah A.
  3. “Trying to make the decision of ‘when would be a good time to use it?’ Deciding whether I want to try to walk through the entire store or pull my wheelchair out can be a difficult decision.” — Savannah F.
  4. “Because I am in the chair part-time, I don’t have all the skills full-time users do. So, I am a little slow/clumsy getting through a door or up a ramp. People are way too quick to jump in to rescue me, even as I say ‘Please, don’t. I need the practice.’” — Vicki G.
  5. “I was so worried about using a wheelchair when it was first suggested, but I now love how much more freedom it gives me on days out. It means I’m not slowing people down and I can do more for longer.” — Bethan T.
  6. “The idea from abled folk that using a wheelchair is taking the easy way out/being lazy. They have no idea how much work it is to push yourself along with your arms, LMAO! I only get on that thing when I absolutely need it – because my arms/upper body will hurt like the devil for days afterwards!” — Carol S.
  7. “We all gotta admit, the doors that don’t have ‘the button’ – those are the worst-ever challenges and people will walk right by us like they don’t even see us! Now that, that bothers me! It is disturbing. There are some good people out there though. But we all know the doors without ‘the button’ to help us! Those doors still exist!” — KellyAnn P.
  8. “The vibe you get from people is so different when you’re in your wheelchair. I can walk into a store and people may look at me but then they kinda move on with their day. If I’m in a wheelchair they stare and probably try to figure out what’s wrong with me. There’s a weird vibe of judgment, pity and opinions… that you don’t get otherwise.” — Christine S.
  9. “Being halfway through something and thinking ‘Oh no! Where is my chair?’ and it is not only not in the store or whatever, it is at home!” — Michelle J.
  10. “My doctor refused to give me a disability parking placard because I don’t use my chair all the time. She recommended I apply for In-Home Supportive Services instead. So, although I got a chair in hopes of being able do more stuff on my own, as well as hoping to actually go out and do fun socializing, I am rarely able to use my chair unless I take the bus. Which usually ends up being too exhausting and I give up. So I end up home in bed anyways.” — Jade R.
  11. “I use a wheelchair when shopping because I can’t walk long distances. When trying on clothing, I never know whether to walk out of the dressing room to show my friends or whether to wheel myself back out and in each time. I can easily stand and walk the few steps out, but the dressing room attendants and other shoppers stare at me in confusion!” — Leanna K.
  12. “The sheer panic on the faces of people who know me mixed with the confusion. The second they see me out of the chair they get excited and say ‘Oh so are you doing better now?’ If it’s someone I don’t see often I sometimes lie and say yes because I don’t want to upset them.” — Rosie H.
  13. “Always having a wheelchair in your car, because you don’t use it on a regular basis, but have needed it when least expected! Always best to be prepared.” — Cassidy S.
  14. “Walking behind my wheelchair because I am in too much pain to sit down… and people calling out to me: ‘You have lost someone! The wheelchair is empty!’ They are thinking that they are so funny, but actually they are not. They are confronting me with my illness time and time again… every time when I am outside.” — Nick B.
  15. “Making that last minute decision. Can I make it? Is it that bad? Will it be later?” — Bailey S.
  16. “The need to remodel but the lack of desire to buy new things like cabinets and nice door frames because we know that they’ll be quickly marred by the wheelchair.” — Lalia H.
  17. “Learning my physical limits and knowing when to use the chair. On days where I’ve got limited/no feeling or strength it’s obvious, but on days where I’m fatigued or in pain I often push through instead of listening to my body. It usually leads to longer periods in the wheelchair and more issues. I’m working on that.” — K. Jessica H.
  18. “Places saying ‘we are disabled friendly!’ And then you turn up and they so aren’t. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating all at once.” — Gemma C.
  19. “Getting out of my vehicle, and slowly walking to my trunk, and then standing while yanking it out: always looks bad to ableists that don’t understand that even though I can walk short distances, I need the chair. Those who have never had to use one often don’t understand that even though I have the ability it is not a safe thing for me. Not only could I dislocate any joint in the process, but I could also potentially pass out and injure myself.” — Breezy N.
  20. “People don’t understand what part-time means. When I have to use my wheelchair one day but not the next, some people treat me like I’m a criminal or attention-seeking. They seem to think I am making my disability up. I’ve tried to explain and still do to the people that ask. But you know what? It doesn’t matter what they think. It matters that I am keeping myself safe and as healthy as possible.” — Melissa B.
Originally published: August 17, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home