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The Good and Bad Sides of Navigating Life in a Wheelchair

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When you’re a wheelchair user, you tend to see the world differently. Simple, everyday tasks become challenging, not because of your disability, but because the world is not accessible. People like to think that in this day and age people with disabilities can go about their everyday business with no obstacles, but it’s simply not the case. Something as small as there being a curb cut or not can hugely impact how a wheelchair user’s day goes, or how it doesn’t. Being in a wheelchair isn’t all bad, though. I believe we have to try and focus on the good bits rather than the bad and negative ways in which wheelchair users are often portrayed.

The Bad

1. People don’t talk to or direct questions at you; they are directed at the people around you.

One thing that really annoys me when I am out with friends is that people never talk directly to me and seem shocked when I ask an intelligent question. I’m not the most beautiful person in the world, but would it kill you to look at my face when you’re talking to me?

2. Wheelchair users are not a piece of furniture.

I absolutely hate being treated like an object. If someone in a wheelchair is blocking your path, simply say “excuse me” and they will move for you, just like anyone else would. It is completely unacceptable to ever move someone in a wheelchair out of your way. You wouldn’t like it if someone came up to you and pushed you to the side so they could get past you. We don’t like it either.

3. When someone says “Eating (insert healthy/disgusting food) will cure you and mean you can walk again.”

Quite simply, it won’t. A lot of part-time wheelchair users get frustrated at being in a wheelchair. People don’t seem to realize that we have tried everything to help our walking. I have several chronic illnesses and I have tried many different treatments, both natural and medicinal. I know what works for me and what doesn’t. Feel free to give me advice, but please don’t tell me that I am making things worse for myself, and don’t try to force magical “cures” such as eating celery on me.

4. Don’t ask me if I know someone you know because they also use a wheelchair.

The world is a big place, there are lots of people in it and many of them are wheelchair users or disabled in some way. Just because I am disabled it doesn’t mean I know everyone else who is disabled. It’s like me asking if you know Fred Smith because he has brown hair like you.

5. Don’t judge me if I stand up.

There are many different reasons why someone may use a wheelchair. Some may have a spinal cord injury, some may use it as a precaution in case their joints dislocate when out and about and others may use it because walking causes them agonizing pain. We all do the best for ourselves and if that means using a wheelchair to reduce pain, so be it.

The Good

It may sound odd saying there are good things that come with being in a wheelchair, but there are and I believe you have to make the most of them, because the majority of the time being a wheelchair user is hard work due to the inaccessible world we live in.

1. Great seats and a free carer’s ticket at concerts/events.

This is a pretty big one for me. As a musician, I love going to concerts and shows. Often they are inaccessible, so when they are accessible I jump at the chance. There are normally special areas or seats for those in a wheelchair and the majority of the time the seats are some of the best in the venue. Whenever I attend a big event or concert, I always have someone with me to help me if I encounter any accessibility issues on my journey to/from the venue. Thankfully carers normally get a free ticket where I live, meaning that if I need someone to come with me, I only have to pay their transport costs, not the cost of a second ticket.

2. You always have a seat.

This is pretty obvious, but everywhere you go, you always have a seat with you. People complaining that there are no chairs or they are uncomfortable makes me grateful for having my own very comfortable chair!

3. Shoes last ages.

When you do a lot of walking shoes wear out pretty quickly, they become damaged and often end up looking old, tired and grubby. Well, when you’re in a wheelchair you aren’t doing the walking so shoes can last years. I have had my favorite pair of flip-flops for eight years… so far!

4. You can become a good judge of character and very understanding if problems arise.

When you use a wheelchair, you may get used to being treated differently and get used to people’s attitudes. You soon learn the sort of people you can trust and those you can’t. You understand people’s struggles and can sympathize with someone if something goes wrong. Being in a wheelchair has taught me that everyone has their own struggles, even if you can’t see them, so you should always be kind. Simply being kind can sometimes make someone’s day.

5. You may quickly develop a thick skin.

When in a wheelchair you get many clueless comments and remarks that people don’t realize are totally inappropriate. As a result, you tend to quickly develop a thick skin so you can brush all those comments off and carry on. One thing I hate people saying to me is that people like me are a “drain on society.”

There are obviously many more good and bad things about being a wheelchair user, but the list would go on forever if I included them all. I just hope this helps people realize it’s not all bad when you’re a wheelchair user!

Getty image by photographer.

Originally published: February 25, 2020
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