Growing up, there was a man, Mike, who lived down the street and who used a power wheelchair. He had broken his neck as a teenager and was my friend Megan’s uncle. Whenever we were bored, she would drag me to his house so we could ask him for a free ride on his wheelchair, sit on his lap, the whole shebang. And, oh man, I hated it when she would make us do this. I really did.
The reason it bugged me? Back when I was nondisabled, I, just like half the human population on this planet if I had to guess, felt horribly uncomfortable around wheelchair users. I was only 6 and already I was prejudiced towards wheelchair users. What’s the deal, man? Is it ingrained in our brains to automatically poo-poo anyone who cannot walk?
Now that I’m a quadriplegic, of course I’m not proud of my 6 year old self. While I never imagined my accident would happen and would land me in a wheelchair (that might have softened me), it makes me wonder why I was automatically so afraid of him. Why are wheelchairs by default scary to the human brain? Is it because kids are small and wheelchairs are big? Or is it simply because different bodies are off-putting?
If you think about it, a wheelchair is just a chair on four wheels, maybe six if you have the fancy kind. It’s not like it’s a tank outfitted with bombs or an electric chair in prison trying to take your last breath. But there’s just something about the wheelchair that has the ability to freak people out, like it’s the blob is coming towards them.
This didn’t use to bother me, but now it does. What changed? My four little nieces ages 8, 7, 5 and 1.
While the eldest two are way cool around me, the 5 year old … not so much. She is taking a bit longer to realize the wheelchair is not scary and is just a piece of equipment to help Auntie Tiff get around. I know it’s because I am not able to see her as much in person as I was her sisters, and it makes me sad there’s not something I can do. It’s only going to take time.
Don’t get me wrong, I try. I smile, tell jokes, make funny faces, even surprise her with candy, but I can tell she is still not quite comfortable. She may take a bit more longer this one, but I know eventually she’ll come around like her sisters. I’m absolutely determined. She is my kin.
But I won’t lie. It makes me sad that I have to un-scarify myself. I really wish the human brain wasn’t hardwired the way it is when it comes to the wheelchair.
How do you deal with the “scary wheelchair?”
Photo courtesy of Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/sjsharktank/5752328890/sizes/m/