Thursday, 26 May 2016

"Why Are You On Your Own?!" & Other Things People Say To Me...

Being in a wheelchair comes with all sorts of challenges, challenges I overcome day after day...kerbs, stairs, high cupboards & shelves, but my hardest challenge? Humans.

Yep! I know what you're can a human be an obstacle?

All my life I have been looked down upon, been asked the most ridiculously inappropriate questions, and have been involved in extremely awkward situations, ones that I can almost guarantee don't happen to the standard 'able-bodied' person. The worst part is, its not even always from complete strangers, some of these questions/statements have come from colleagues, public services, and even friends!

So, with that in mind, I thought I would put together a handy little blog of these things to spread awareness of how ridiculous they are, and hopefully just make people a little more aware of what they're saying...hopefully. There will always be numpties.

This is a question I get asked WAY too often. Apparently because I'm in a wheelchair I'm not allowed to be on my know, because I'm completely invalid. I get told that it 'isn't fair' that I'm on my own, that I should be with someone to help me, despite the fact I've clearly managed to get to you without assistance? Yes I understand that some people in wheelchairs do require a carer, but does that mean that I should be tarnished with the same brush? Does a wheelchair imply that all of us are the same? that basic ignorance is no different to saying that all asians look the same, or all foreign people are terrorists... but of course you wouldn't say that, because its horrible and isn't true! so why does my wheelchair suddenly give someone the right to say that to me?

Okay, so not a question, but something that really bugs me. Admittedly most of my experiences of this have been with older people, but I have had rare occasions, of people similar to my age, or middle aged. It literally is what the title suggests, people respond to me in a baby voice, as if I can't comprehend normal conversation so they have to use little words and a high pitched voice in order for me to understand them, even on occasion using hand gestures as well. I think a lot of this stems back to what I was saying earlier, about tarnishing all people in wheelchairs with the same brush, only this type of brush being that all people in wheelchairs must have a mental disability. I for one, do not. My disability is purely physical, I require this wheelchair basically for transportation as a replacement for my legs. My mental health is absolutely 100% fine (despite what my close friends and family might say haha!) and for people to assume otherwise because they see my chair is, again, ignorance. From my experience you can usually tell if someone has a mental health issue in a wheelchair, either straight away, or by actually talking to them first, and if it is appropriate to use simpler words after this discovery, then fine, but baby talk is NEVER okay. Its demeaning, and makes the wheelchair user feel like crap, and winds me up so bad. I'm always polite back, but inside I'm absolutely screaming. so please, just don't do this.

This one I will never understand, it makes me feel awkward, you feel awkward, my friend/family member feel awkward, all in all, just everyone feels stupid. if the title is unclear, I'll use an example, I've been at a counter wanting to ask questions about something, so I will go up to the counter with my friend, ask the receptionist a question, and the receptionist will then respond to my friend, not me. I will then get her attention back on me and answer back, and then she will ask a question such as 'is she able to get out of the chair?' at which point I will then go "yes SHE is...and I'm right here?!". I just do not get it. Another example of this, is when friends of my Mums will ask her (with me next to her) "oh how old is she now?" and my Mum will respond "Well, she's right there, ask her?" and they look almost horrified... are they that scared to talk to me? a sitting down, blonde, curly haired, petite feminine woman? I am literally what you would use in an example of a non-threatening/intimidating person. So why are people so scared of talking to me?

I was brought up in a very 'normal' environment. I was never in a special school, I went to a standard public Primary & High school, College & University, and was never brought up to associate myself as 'a girl in a wheelchair' I am just a person, like everyone else. Because of this, I have picked up natural sentences that everyone else uses, and certain people seem to find it "hilarious" to correct me.
I tend to use sentences such as "I'm knackered I just walked all the way into town and back" to which I will receive a response such as "what? how did you WALK?". Now, obviously, I did NOT just get up and physically walk into town, its just a saying, its something I've heard my whole life, and everyone else says it, so why can't I? Its common sense that it wasn't meant literally, so why nitpick? why tell me I should use the words 'rolled' or 'wheeled' when those words don't feel natural for me to say? It has zero impact on your life which word I use, so to quote Elsa, Let It Go.

I really shouldn't even have to put this on the list, because this is something that shouldn't be asked to ANYONE. Yet this is a question I've probably been asked the most frequently, followed alongside with "how do you get dressed? does someone have to help you?" and more very personal questions about being carried into bed, and even being asked if i have to be fed by someone. The title question was actually most recently asked to me by a colleague, on my very first day of work, within the first hour of me being there and having met them. I've also had a very awkward experience of a taxi driver asking me all of the above and having to keep calm till I can get out of the car. These sort of questions are extremely inappropriate, yet - as mentioned before - for some reason the wheelchair seems to give these people a 'pass' to just think its okay to ask? It isn't. EVER.

This one is a hard one, because I know that the people doing this are genuinely trying to be helpful, and they probably aren't thinking when they do it, but please please please don't help a disabled person without asking first. I appreciate help when I ask for it, and when it is offered, but for someone to just grab my chair and start pushing me, especially a total stranger - which it usually is - is definitely NOT okay. Think of my chair as an extension of my body, now imagine someone just coming up behind you and grabbing you and pushing you forward, what would you think? Yep. you just thought you were about to get attacked. That is exactly what goes through my head everytime this happens. It is terrifying. By all means, I am not saying don't help disabled people, but ask first. If someone came up to me and said "hey, that hill is steep, would you like some help?" then thats really kind, and I will either say yes or no, and it is appreciated a lot either way that someone is being so selfless. But please ask, don't just assume and do it anyway. ALSO, if a disabled person does say no, please respect that, I've had a few occasions I've respectfully declined and the person has taken it upon themselves to ignore me & think they know better and 'help' me anyway, which again, then terrifies me. I'm not a nervous person at all, but in that situation, it is quite scary, and it could cause a nervous wheelchair user a lot of emotional damage.

As I mentioned above, my chair is an extension of my body, and generally you wouldn't just start leaning on someone when you're talking to them, or standing near them, yet people seem to think its fine to do that to my chair. In school I had a science teacher who would always stand behind me in class and lean on my chair whilst he wasn't doing anything (despite the fact he had his own desk chair to do so!) and I often get strangers waiting at the bus stop who lean on my handles too, WHY?! Its really awkward for me, because I then have to try and explain to a total stranger why I don't want them to lean on me, which I really shouldn't have to do.

No. I'm not. I have not won a nobel prize, I have not entered the paralympics, or found a cure for a disease in Uganda. I am not an inspiration. I am many things, I am bright, I am clever, I am articulate, I am bubbly, I am a bit of a geek, you fill in the gaps, but an inspiration is not one of them, and let me explain to you why. When people use this term, it is almost always followed with something along the lines of "its so nice to see you outside, going about your day, like nothings wrong, so many wheelchair users don't do that they just spend their lives just existing, or inside, they don't go out like you" Okay, 1. where are you getting your statistics from? because absolutely none of that is true, unless they physically can't look after themselves/go outside for medical reasons. and 2. nothing IS wrong thank you very much. Me going about my normal day does not constitute to me being an 'inspiration' it just makes me exactly the same as you. I'm all for compliments, but to me, this isn't, this is basically telling me you're shocked that I'm able to look after myself.

Now this one, mostly comes from kids & teenagers, or just really pathetic people who are my age & really should grow up. I'm only mentioning this one just to hopefully raise awareness to teach your future children/family members not to do this. I get a lot of teens making car noises at me, or calling me stupid names like 'speedy' or actually, I've had adults tell me I should slow down, its not a race... comments like this are actually really offensive, and quite hurtful, even when meant in jest. oh and whilst were on the subject, if your 4 year old runs almost into me & your response to her about me is "watch out for the little girl!" you're also a part of the problem.

I am not a show, or a freak, so please don't look at me like one. I've had this my whole life and its always adults, kids tend to actually respond better to me because they usually are just curious, but adults actually walk by me staring me out, and its really creepy! Wheelchairs and disability is common knowledge, and in 2016 its absolutely everywhere, with events such as The Last Leg, the Paralympics and even soaps such as Eastenders, Hollyoaks & Coronation Street having actors in wheelchairs, we're not back when i was a kid, when disability was almost seen as a why are people still looking at me like I'm something they've never seen before?

I don't want you to get the wrong impression of me, I am a hugely positive person, and in all of these situations, somehow I manage to keep polite and smiley throughout, and keep the annoyance to myself until I get home. But I do feel that this post could really help people become more aware of what they are saying, and if this can prevent other wheelchair users experiencing what I have, or at least stop it from continuing as much, then I will be a very happy bunny.

Golden Rule : If you wouldn't want it to happen to you, don't do it to someone else.

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Where Theres A Wheel, Theres A Way.
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