A disgruntled woman wrote me the other day about one of the biggest pet peeves I think most people have when living the wheelchair life.
People who have no qualms about using our wheelchairs as an end to a means for something they need to get accomplished. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Let me explain.
The woman who wrote me told me that last week, while waiting for the elevator with a coworker, this coworker suddenly propped his foot up on her wheelchair and tied his shoe. I don’t know about you, but if you use a wheelchair, this is about equal to someone putting their foot on your thigh. Highly offensive barely covers it.
But not everybody gets this apparently, as the jerk at her work so rudely exemplified. For people who have no experience being around someone in a wheelchair (and make no mistake there are a lot of people in this boat; if I had to put a number on it, probably 90% of the populace have never had direct contact with someone in a wheelchair), they don’t even think about the people in the wheelchairs.
Our wheelchair is an extension of our personal space. It can’t be avoided no matter how you feel about being in a wheelchair. They say our personal space is about 1½ feet (in the U.S that is. It’s vastly different in other countries and is usually not as spacious). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a movie theater where the person behind me has propped their foot up and put it on my back rest. Every time this happens I immediately turn around and look at them with the evil eye. They usually get the point and put their foot down right away.
And don’t even get me started on people who just lean on my wheelchair or use it as some kind of support. We are the temporary cane for old ladies. The woman who wrote me said it perfectly, “Like come on, would you grab a walking person’s shoulder for stability. I doubt it! It’s a matter of respecting people.”
It can be hard dealing with this when it happens though. When it does, always make sure you say something the instant you notice it. Never feel like you should hesitate when someone is invading your personal space. You don’t have to necessarily yell at them or be a complete b#$!% about it, but you can at least ask them to “Please remove whichever body part is touching your wheelchair.”
I’ll sometimes say this in a curt manner, other times….I’ll say it very sweetly with a big smile. Honestly, it all depends on how old the person is. It’s really hard to yell an old lady when she’s about to fall over and grabs onto your push handle to stop herself (yes this has happened).
Most of the time people will apologize after I’ve said something about it. “Oh hey she can talk?!” Maybe it makes them finally see the person and not the wheelchair. I think that this is really key in finally changing people’s perceptions of people who use wheelchairs – just talk to them.
I think every human should make it their personal goal to know someone in a wheelchair at least once in their life. There are so many important social mores that you only learn if you hang out with us. Maybe you don’t care, and that’s fine, but don’t get mad at me when you embarrass yourself when someone in a wheelchair gives you a tongue lashing (much worse than my own) when you’re out on an important date.
Our wheelchairs are our personal spaces. They are, they are, and don’t you forget about it.
How do you feel about others touching your wheelchair? How do you handle it?