I began using a wheelchair in 2017 as a way of managing the many symptoms I experience with my chronic illnesses. It is a god send on days where I physically cant walk for more than a few minutes, or when I'm mentally exhausted and unable to cope with mobilising myself. However, I have and continue to struggle with using the wheelchair, I often feel like a fraud, or an embarrassment to my family and friends when using it.
The trouble with using a wheelchair is the stigma that comes with it. Using a wheelchair in a public place involves experiencing a plethora of reactions from those around you, some of the reactions I have experienced personally include:
Obvious whispering about me
Avoiding looking at me
Avoiding me completely
Questioning why I use a wheelchair
Talking to my carer instead of me
Assumptions regarding why i use a wheelchair: broken leg etc.
Rude remarks when walking after using the wheelchair
These are just a few of the reactions I have experienced, there are hundred more that wheelchair users come into contact with every day. With reactions like these it is logical that a wheelchair user like me would feel embarrassed when using it. It took a few years for me to get used to the above reactions, the issues with accessibility, and the reduced independence when using a wheelchair, however it has been an aid overall despite plenty of embarrassing, awkward moments. I think the key thing to take from this is to change your behaviour when you see someone in a wheelchair. Instead of reacting as above, try:
Asking questions in a careful, considerate way
Check with the user that they feel up to answering questions at that time
Ask if they need help
Talk to the user as well as their carer!
Avoid assuming why someone may use a wheelchair
Do not question how they use their wheelchair
Treat them as you would wish to be treated should it be you in that wheelchair
I have plenty of stories both sad and funny regarding wheelchair experience, some of which I
will be posting about sometime in the future. What are your wheelie stories, anything awkward or embarrassing? Perhaps you have a funny anecdote regarding your wheelie experience? Let us know in the comments below!