I’ve never been comfortable in my wheelchair, at first I hated being in it but over time I have found that if I want to do all of the things I want to do, then I have to use my wheelchair. I have just returned from a fabulous holiday with family in Orlando, Florida and I’d taken my wheelchair. I’d assumed that the parks would offer them free of charge but when I checked there was a charge and if I’d wanted to hire an electric wheelchair it would have cost a hefty £50!
One of the initial reasons that I didn’t like using a wheelchair, was that I just didn’t want to be seen as disabled; especially around where I lived, just in case I saw someone I knew. When I had to use it people’s reaction often made me dread it even more, some people just plain stare at me. I have no idea why; do they look at me and think why is she in a wheelchair? Do they stare at everyone in a wheelchair? Or are they just rude?
Then there are all the people who ignore my existence altogether. Shop assistants have spoken with my sister, who was pushing me, despite the fact that I had placed the item on the counter and it was me paying for it too. Why would you do that? I totally understand if the person in the wheelchair is non communicative, but there are many of us who aren’t and have a very active brain, it’s just our bodies that let us down.
Finally, there are the people who talk to whoever is pushing my wheelchair and ask “Can she walk? Can she talk? Can she sit still?” etc. It is unbelievably rude and it infuriates me. The only time that I think people treat me with respect in my wheelchair, is when I have special assistance in Airports and I am travelling alone. I suppose it’s because people assume that you must be compos mentis if you are travelling alone, I don’t know.
I thought that after the 2012 paralympics when people received so much admiration, that attitudes would change, because people with disabilities were seen in a far more positive light. I’m afraid that isn’t the case, in my experience anyway. So my plea to everyone out there, who feels a little awkward when you see someone in a wheelchair, is to treat them with respect and dignity. Talk to THEM first and then to the carer if necessary. It will make all of us having to travel in wheelchairs feel a lot more at ease.