Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What They Don't Tell You About Your First Wheelchair

Wow, there are all kinds of special days this week! Yesterday was Rare Disease Day. Now today happens to be National Wheelchair Day. I have been a manual wheelchair user since early 2016. Although I was chair bound for a significant portion of the year, anybody familiar with my conditions would probably know that I do not use a chair full time. I can walk, but joint dislocations, fainting, and muscle involvement do not make it easy.

Requiring a wheelchair can be a difficult adjustment. There are many aspects of chair life that medical professionals do not inform their patients about upon prescribing their first wheelchair.

Whew, It Is Tiring

Just because chair users are unable to use their legs or stand for lengthy periods, they are not weak. Manual chairs are tiring. Imagine moving around using only your arms. That consists of supporting your body weight, as well as the weight of the chair. Wheeling takes strength!

It Is NOT Convenient

Those in a wheelchair might receive perks, like parking in the front spaces of a lot or being allotted fast passes for amusement rides, but a wheelchair is not fun and games. 

  • It is not faster. A simple 10-minute jaunt is prolonged due to the longer routes to avoid curbs. 
  • Navigating a bathroom turns into a 3 hour affair. The handicapped stall is occupied by the non-disabled AT LEAST 90% of the time. When it is available, there is never enough room. 
  • Handicapped spaces are frequently full. Wheelchair or not, a placard is not a rarity. 
Party of 3+?

Nope, wheelchair life does not just involve the chair user and their chair. It includes everyone and their brother...sister too.

  • People stare. A lot. The gazes are not always out of malice. Usually they are from general curiosity. Sometimes there are people are so green with envy because they must want a cool wheelchair of their own. Soooo....
  • They get offended. For parking in handicapped spaces. For some chair users being able to walk too. For breathing. Who knows? 
  • They try to push without asking permission. Initially, most chair users understand it is meant to be a nice gesture. However, it is common courtesy NOT to pick up a random stranger and carry them to their final destination. The same concept applies in this situation. 
Well...This Is Awkward

The world is not made to be wheelchair accessible. A non-disabled person automatically assumes society caters to the disabled. I used to have that exact mindset. It is entirely untrue though.

  • Not all places are wheelchair accessible. Unless it is a medical facility or a large establishment (i.e. - malls, etc.), many places are are not accessible. Even if it is, it is an arduous journey to roll through crowds of people or down the aisles of theaters and restaurants.
  • Nothing is eye level. "How is the weather down there?" jokes occur. Not being eye level with others is...odd. And reaching for doors and over counters also presents a challenge. It definitely takes getting used to.
  • Everything gets caught in the wheelchair spokes. By the end of the day, that new outfit will not be in pristine condition and chair users will have inevitably picked up a few extra belongings. HairLintYarnChewed up gum from 6 months ago. You name it. 
Despite the sarcasm, I have learned valuable lessons in my first year as a wheelchair user. There are parts of wheelchair life that no doctor could prepare me for.  The term itself carries negative assumptions. Do not fall (or roll) into the trap of wheelchair stigma.