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When a Theme Park Security Guard Pushed My Wheelchair Without Permission

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I really like Halloween. My partner loves it! So a few years ago, we decided to buy tickets for several days at Universal Studios’® Halloween Horror Nights. Every year the theme park hosts elaborate haunted houses, spooky decorations and creepy character actors. Great fun for us!

We arrived a little before the park opened for the evening. You can imagine it was extra crowded, on top of the usual anthill-like conditions at a theme park entrance. My partner was on foot and I was in a wheelchair. Slowly queuing our way through ticketing, we then passed through bag check.

As I wheeled myself away from the table where security was checking bags, my chair suddenly lurched off in a different direction. It took me a few seconds to realize that, no, I wasn’t on an incline. Utterly bewildered, I looked around and saw it was one of the uniformed security guards. He had started physically moving me, an adult, around without so much as a word of warning!

“We’re just going to move you out of the way of the crowd, ma’am,” this complete stranger told me from behind. He then proceeded to wheel me off to the side, away from the park entrance lane.

I was at a loss for words as he parked my wheelchair facing a brick wall. He literally put my toes up against the wall, my back towards the people excitedly rushing into the park for Halloween fun. I must have looked like some naughty child in a corner.

I was still in a stunned silence when the uniformed stranger leaned over me from behind to apply both of the wheelchair brakes. Again, he made the decision to restrict me moving from the position he had put me in – without my permission.

“Your handler will be with you in a moment.” And then he just walked away.

My what? My handler? That makes me sound like I’m an exotic lizard or something. He was clearly under the assumption that someone else was accompanying me to the park. I say it was an assumption because my partner and I were separated early on in the process of checking bags. Emerging from the check alone, I could have easily been visiting the park on my own.

Yet this man seemingly thought I needed someone else to come “handle” me in order to visit the park I paid money to enter. He thought it was appropriate to physically move me, without so much as a “hello,” and shunt me off to the side. Not only was I incapable of moving on my own according to him, I even had to be protected from the “threat” of movement by securing me in place with the brakes.

He could have told me to move along, like he was doing with the entire crowd around me. If I hadn’t been able to fulfill that request, it is arguably prudent to make sure someone in a wheelchair moves away from such a crowded thoroughfare. But there was no attempt to assess whether I could move on my own or if I needed assistance. There was no consideration to communicating with me in any way before making decisions for me. I was an obstacle to be moved. Even if I was unable to do anything without a “handler,” did he really think the most interesting view was a close-up of a wall?

It’s true, I may have committed the terrible sin back then of slowing or stopping amidst the crowd. It is impossible to use both hands to propel yourself while also putting away the valuables that were security checked. However, if I had been on foot, it would have been inconceivable for him to pick me up and carry me out of the way just because it was crowded. Everyone around me would have considered that rude.

However convenient my wheelchair’s handlebars look, pushing it without my knowledge or consent is wrenching autonomous movement from me. Please ask yourself this: when is it socially acceptable to grab someone’s ankles and force them to walk? Not a lot of situations spring to mind, I’m sure. Basic courtesies that are expected between adults were not extended to me, simply because I moved on wheels instead of legs.

If wheelchairs are such a notorious problem among the crowds at the entrance, perhaps visitors in wheelchairs and similar mobility devices should have their bags checked further into the park, or before the ticketing process, so that the throngs of people around bag check can be bypassed altogether.

In my chair, I don’t have the same ability to side-step out of a crowd. It’s a cumbersome process that risks many toes and shins, especially since I’m below eye level. Trying to turn out of a crowd invariably ends in someone nearly stumbling over me because their attention was elsewhere.

The security guard could have tried to make sure people kept moving around me when I slowed down. In my experience, people are so often preoccupied with their phones and friends that they’ll slow down with me and just stand waiting behind my wheelchair when I stop, rather than move around me.

At the time, I was quite incensed by the incident, but having a very finite amount of energy, I preferred to spend it on the theme park, rather than on finding a manager to listen to my complaints. Years later, it still bothers me that I was too bowled over by the rudeness of it all to tell the security guard how his actions made me feel.

Mr. Security Guard, that night, you made me feel like a faceless obstacle. You wouldn’t care if a cardboard box sits staring at a wall. Nor would you feel the need to let that box know you’re going pick it up and put it somewhere. You put me in the corner like a box, ready for a real person to pick up and haul through the park for a night of haunted thrills.

We had multi-day tickets for Halloween Horror Nights, and on several occasions we had to leave early due to my pain problems. The sting I remember, though, was that 15-second exchange, and the indignity of you only seeing a wheelchair, never a person.

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Originally published: October 28, 2016
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