Lean on me? Put your foot on me? No wayJun 19 10:12
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?
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1. Bob V | Jun 21 01:47
Great post. My chair is an extension of me to the point where I can sense when it is being touched just as I can sense if somebody is touching my paralyzed leg. Touching or handling my chair is the same as touching my shoulder or arm. Somebody pushing my chair or leaning against a wheel or backrest without asking is a huge annoyance! I also assume that they don't get it--and will politely explain that it isn't OK and my chair really is part of me.
2. Judy Talnadge | Jun 21 03:22
I have a bus driver that I have given permission to lean on my chair when she is securing it because of a medical problem with her hip ans when she bends over to put the securement straps on she can't stand back up om her own, so in ths case I don't have an issue with it. I also have a couple of friends that will put their hand on the back rest when we are talking because they are also laying their hand on my shoulder ans the top on my backrest and my shoulder are the same height. Other than these 3 people I will alway say something to the person and tell them to not lean on my chair. I have actually had people get really mad and start an argument with me over this saying that they are not hurting anything by leasning on chair. I tell them that you are not just leaning on the chair but you are also leaning on me and how would you like it if I was stitting next to you and just leaned over and put as much of my body weight as I can on your legs.
3. dleonardcrc7 | Jun 21 03:43
Not a problem...I merely request sexual favors...you know, "Tit for Tat"(-;
4. PJ | Jun 24 12:49
Seems like I'm in a really small minority here, but as someone who has used a wheelchair since I was about 5 years old, I have never had any problems with this. My friends will always rest their feet, tie their shoes on my wheelchair or even sit on the wheel or footrests, I've never seen it as offensive, intrusive or anything like that, I was always just glad to see that this thing which I use for mobility was useful in some other small way to people around me. Now don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be as carefree about it if it was some random person being really obnoxious about it and leaning on me for minutes on end. But an old lady using it to support herself a few seconds or something I have no problem with. Anyways, interesting article, much respect. I always find you're articles interesting.
5. Crystal Rose | Jun 27 04:55
I have arthritis and use a chair because even though I'm fortunate enough to still be able to walk some, I couldn't get too far without it. I wouldn't care one bit if a tired old lady had to grab my wheelchair for support. Just happy to be in the right place at the right time. The guy tying his shoe without so much as a Mother-may-I? Not so much. :D One time I did feel extremely uncomfortable was when a bus driver grabbed the seat of my chair between my legs while I was on the chair lift getting off the bus. I was like, never do that again. He said he was just making sure my chair didn't fall off the lift. Right, buddy. Hands off the merchandise, or I will run over your foot the next time. :D
6. wheelchairnurse | Jul 02 08:22
It really depends on how and why they are touching my chair. Some people just don't get it. Especially those who push you even when you tell them you can do it yourself. But little kids are great they usually ask first and then ask all kinds of other questions. The ones I really hate are tgh e ones that pat me on the head.
7. Hoosiershorty | Jul 17 05:14
i really dont mind when people do it unless its done in a rude fashion although if im going to be your foot rest and you have some restless leg syndrome going on well yea then im gonna get unhappy .
8. Rose | Sep 05 11:11
This is a great article! I've used the same phrase, that my wheelchair is an extension of my body. But it still does depend on the situation, such as what Liza McCollum was talking about.
9. not easliy offended | May 04 04:56
Kids are the worse. I was at a party and as soon as the kids saw the "cool new toy" they kept screwing with the controls. Their parents just watched them. Even after I came out and said "This is easily damaged and very expensive. I do not have the money to repair it. PLEASE tell your kids to leave it alone." the kids couldn't keep their grimy mitts off of it.
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Tiffiny Carlson is freelance writer and writes the “SCI Life” column for New Mobility. She's also a C6 quad from a diving accident that occurred when she was 14 years old. A lifelong resident of Minneapolis, Tiffiny has been a writer in the disability community for over 10 years and writes for several publications and blogs, as well as her personal blog BeautyAbility. Her work has also appeared in mainstream publications such as Nerve.com and Playgirl.