Charm School: How to Be a Decent Human Being When a Wheelchair User is around.
We were recently fortunate to be given a freebie trip to the Warner Bros Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter). What an awesome adventure. One snag however, my Fibro combined with an old ankle injury and Plantar Fasciitis, my current Pain From The Heal Devils of Hell, and there’s no way I would be able walk and stand for long enough to enjoy the Studios.
So we dusted off (well, bleached the mould off) my trusty wheelchair that was my best-friend when Fibro and Pregnancy didn’t mix. I admitted defeat. The last thing I wanted to do was be in the chair. But I also realised, if there was any real chance of the rest of the family having a good day, and me not scuppering the next week through stubbornness (yes, I’m guilty), it was the only option.
However, the difference between this time and the last time I was in the wheelchair: I’m not completely hallucinatory and out of it on medication. Shame. And I have three kids in tow. This made me firstly more aware of the challenges of wheelchair usage. And secondly, nervous about how I would manage. And so, on the back of that experience, here’s my Do’s & Don’ts if you see a wheelchair user:
1. Do Realise I’m a Human, Don’t Think I’m an Alien, or Stupid, or Incapable, Or Not My Children’s Mother
Seriously, this would be insulting if it wasn’t so bloody frustrating. Whilst many people do speak to you as though you actually exist, the number of people who will speak to your ‘driver’ but not you is staggering. It’s my legs and energy levels that aren’t playing ball, not my brain or my voice. And you won’t ‘catch it’ by communicating with me.
2. Do Realise My Kids Need Parenting, Don’t Stop Me From Doing That Unless You Want to See Brats
There is a serious logistical problem when you have 3 kids and you’re in a chair – they run off and disperse and you a) can’t see them (you’re too low) and b) can’t get to them because some numpty has decided it’s ok to take advantage of that gap between you. I’m still their mum, I need to be within hollering distance, ok? And you’re going to get your turn at a Stamping Station faster if you let me through to help my kid, ok?
3. Don’t Think I’m Invisible or don’t want to enjoy what you do
I’m a punter just like you. In this instance, I’m just as much a fan of this place as you are (in fact I reckon probably more 😉 ). I want to see what I’m here to see. You cutting me up, stepping in front the chair, just makes me want to kill you. And bad vibes ain’t good, ok? I forgot my periscope today and last I checked, you weren’t wearing a see through invisibility cloak. In fact I’m at arse level, so don’t get too close, thanks.
4. Do Realise I Don’t Give a Shit About Your Ankles Anymore
I did, but I’ve just been cut up and cut off from my kids about a zillion times in 20 seconds, I actually therefore have lost my tolerance programming. I literally don’t give a shit if I bash in to your ankles. And it hurts, believe me, I’ve seen my kid crying and the cut to match it (that one was an accident, honest). So don’t be an idiot, and don’t step in front of the chair, or across my trajectory. The wheelchair is an extension of my body, as good as part of me for the duration I’m in it – I wouldn’t rest my foot against your leg, don’t do the same to my chair. It’s my personal space, dammit.
5. Do Be Considerate
You might think it’s hard negotiating a crowded space or café with a buggy, but that’s got nothing on doing it in a wheelchair. That chair that’s sticking out? Yeah, it’d be helpful if you moved it? That coat on the floor? Yes, my wheelchair isn’t going to like that. That door you just let go of? Not fun. Have a little awareness and make the environs a little more disabled friendly around you.
6. Don’t think “It’s a Miracle!” and I’m a fraudster because you saw me walking for 2 minutes
Not all disabilities are visible. For the vast majority of my daily life I live the Invisible Disability (and believe me, that brings it’s very own unique set of challenges and wonderful dose of Judgement). But just because I’ve succumbed and realised I can’t walk far, or stand for long, doesn’t mean that by standing out of my chair to negotiate Wheels-Don’t-Like-Cobbles Diagon Alley, or to go to the loo, means I don’t need the chair and I’m doing this for fun and you can inwardly (or outwardly) shout “It’s a Miracle!”. No one uses a bloody wheelchair for fun. So accept that I know my body and my limitations, and I’m doing what I need to do.
7. Do be patient and offer to help
I am somewhat of a nifty shifter on the wheels, I’ve had enough practice over the years. But nonetheless there are certain obstacles and challenges that are particularly hard, especially for the average wheelchair user who doesn’t have the Ferrari or Discovery of the wheelchair world. Yes, slalom queuing techniques, I’m looking at you. Fortunately the staff here whisked in to help, but there are many other situations where things are hard. My arms are tired, I can’t see too well from this vantage point, and well yes, I’d love it if you could give me a hand around this corner, this café, this ramp, just ask first and all’s sweet.
Wheelchair usage can be tough even though it’s there to help, and make an otherwise impossible situation possible. Get with the programme though as a nice decent human being, and all will be swell.
For some more amusing insight on what being in a wheelchair is like, see here: here