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3 Jan 08, 7:42 AM - Wheelchair

Posted by Elizabeth McClung

I use a manual wheelchair. It has a name. I call it “mine.”

A wheelchair is not an iron prison. I am not ‘confined.’ I am not ‘tragic.’ A wheelchair is not a part of me. A wheelchair is not all I will ever be.

A wheelchair is a mobility device.

A wheelchair does not indicate lack of intelligence. A wheelchair does not mean you need to talk louder at the person in it. Talking to a person in a wheelchair isn’t accomplished by speaking towards the person with them. A wheelchair does not make the person in it naturally good. It does not mean they don’t know how to swear, or that they are patient, gentle or a gift from above.

A wheelchair is a mobility device.

A wheelchair does not mean the person has a spinal cord injury. A wheelchair does not mean there was an “accident.” Just because we are in wheelchairs doesn’t mean we ‘all look alike.’ A wheelchair doesn’t make the person in it sexless. Nor does it make them sexier. A wheelchair does not mean the person using it cannot stand. A wheelchair does not mean the person using it cannot walk.

A wheelchair is a mobility device.

A person in a wheelchair is not a “poor thing.” Because a person in a wheelchair is the height of a child doesn’t mean they are a child, or child-like or like being talked to as a child. A wheelchair does not make the person want to be patted on the head. A wheelchair doesn’t make a person inspirational. A wheelchair doesn’t mean the person is to be pitied.

A wheelchair is a mobility device.

A wheelchair does not mean that the person wants to share their medical history with you. A wheelchair does not automatically make a person any more disabled or less disabled than someone else. A blue stick figure in a wheelchair is a symbol someone made that now everyone uses to mean “disabled” or “handicapped”; that doesn’t mean someone in a wheelchair is special or must park in a blue marked space. There is no “almost” in “wheelchair accessible.” Our society has put a lot of different meanings onto that blue wheelchair sign but at the end of the day....

A wheelchair is a mobility device.

Most able bodied people do not like to stand right beside a person in a wheelchair, I do not know why. Most do not like being passed by a wheelchair. A wheelchair goes faster than a person can walk going downhill. A manual wheelchair goes much, much slower than a person can walk going up an uphill. There isn’t any moral meaning to it: it is the laws of physics and gravity. A person visibly straining to push their wheelchair up a hill isn’t “brave”, “heroic” or “plucky.” They are using a mobility device.

Human legs are more efficient than a wheelchair. Wheelchairs do not go sideways, not even when it is really crowded and people won’t move out of the way. Wheelchairs will sometimes tip over, particularly if there is bad pavement or a bad curb cut. Please do not pull on limbs or yank the person who has fallen. They just fell on cement and they may be injured. They may not want help to get back into their chair. Thank you for caring, but thank you more for listening. A person in a wheelchair has just the same right to choices as anyone else. A wheelchair does not make the person using it any less of an equal person.

A wheelchair is a mobility device.

Do not sit in my wheelchair, even when I am not using it. If someone uses a wheelchair and can move their legs or a leg or part of a leg, this does not mean they are “not disabled”/‘Not a cripple.’ There is no “appropriate” speed for a wheelchair. If you want to push my wheelchair, ask me first: I don’t come up behind you, grab your hips and start pushing you around. Because I am in a wheelchair does not mean I will know another person who you know in a wheelchair. And having to use a wheelchair doesn’t mean ‘your life is over.’ The only thing you know about me when you see me using a wheelchair is that I use a wheelchair, everything else is an assumption.

A wheelchair is a mobility device.

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Comment

At 03:50 PM on 03 Jan 2008, Natalie Eggleston wrote:

It was good to read this article .. can you tell me what the etiquette is with helping someone in a wheelchair? Is it simply to ask?
I’m just thinking of New Years morning, travelling on the one and only train from London Euston to Milton Keynes and getting in a carriage with a lady in a wheelchair. There was no room to sit any where and peopled cramed in like sardines where ever there was a standing space. I then saw lots of shocking behaviour from desperate people who wanted to get on that train no matter what. I saw her knocked, disregarded and her chair used as a tool to hold on to while they pulled their drunken selves onto the train. Through all that time I was amazed she didn’t say something and I did ask her is she was ok .. I wasn’t sure if she thought I was being patronising, I wasn’t but I was genuinely concerned that people didn’t see her or if they choose to ignore her which meant she was getting knocked about. Should I have done something more ?

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At 03:53 PM on 03 Jan 2008, mary laver wrote:

Elizebth. That is ..... briliant My sentiments entilay.
Can i pass it on and can i can it be publised in carity and Universtiy magazins?
Mary Laver

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At 04:19 PM on 03 Jan 2008, spencer wrote:

How true is this statement. There appears to be a mistaken belief that if your physically disabled that you must also be mentally disabled. How many times i have seen people talk the person pushing the wheelchair rather than converse with the occupant.

We need to keep shouting the fact that we all possess brain cells and the ability to communicate !!!

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At 04:34 PM on 03 Jan 2008, Flash Bristow wrote:

I can relate to that! I went on Eurostar in my wheelchair recently and the staff at the St Pancras end were excellent (they even left me to get to the platform unaided, once they'd asked if I could). However on the way back in Brussels, the member of staff insisted on pushing me, saying "no, that's what I'm here for". Instead of allowing me to maneuvre myself into the lift, he lifted me up by the handles and dumped me down hard. I said "Please don't do that! It's not nice! Please ask if you want to lift me!". I tried saying that it is like personal space, and also it hurts to be dropped down.

When we got to the train, again he didn't allow me to maneuvre myself into the space, although I said "thanks, bye, I can do this" - but lifted me up and dumped me down a few times until I'd moved into the space he wanted me to occupy. Again I complained, but he just left. And then of course I maneuvred myself into the space I needed...

I can't even claim it was a cultural difference as the staff member in Brussels was Scottish!

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At 05:50 PM on 03 Jan 2008, Mary-Ann Ansdell wrote:

I just think the whole article is brilliant! My daughter blogs on this site and has had ME for about 10 years so we have much experience of a wheelchair being a mobility device, and all the things you say are so true!

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At 07:47 PM on 03 Jan 2008, Elizabeth McClung wrote:

Natalie: I would think that starting communication would probably be best. I think you did all you could; the problem is that sometimes as a wheelie, you just know that there is going to be a cost and she might have been in "Just grit your teeth and try to ignore it" - And from your description I don't anything could have been done. It is like last week when after a Xmas party dinner, the entire party at a table (10 people) all staggered into my chair where I was having dinner with my partner at another table. Most of them found it funny intead of saying excuse me. I suppose after the first four had hit me some server could have suggested they try going ANOTHER way out just to give some other diners the excitment of their body contact. But you did ask, and you were probably as jammed as everyone else, so thanks for being aware.

Mary: Help yourself, since the BBC doesn't pay, it doesn't have a binding contract and I own the copyright so please, reprint as much as you desire (can I just get author credit though - like "By Elizabeth McClung").

Spencer: Yes, yes yes! My partner wanted me to include "And the person with the person in a wheelchair may also NOT be a personal assistant OR have any medical training" - You should see the look on people's faces after they do the "Oh you are so brave to be out and about." condescending thing, when my partner says, "I don't think you've meet my partner yet, this is Dr. Elizabeth McClung" (I think announcing your Ph.D. while trying to get to the cheese dip at a party is rather odd but I think she does it because SHE is proud to be with me and it irks her that people think 'poor her, stuck with the feeble minded')

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At 08:08 PM on 03 Jan 2008, Elizabeth McClung wrote:

Wow - comment vortex, that took 22 minutes to accept - I guess the BBC IS on disability time.

Flash: Yikes, so much for thier training for PWD's. Wheelchair dancer had a good post where she was acting "stroppy" on board the plane and they threatened to call the police and fire department to have her removed. I do wonder from your story why they thing WE are the ones with the difficulty when clearly the member of staff was the one with communication problems. I've had someone being "helpful almost break my finger by suddenly grabbing and pushing my chair, even when I was trying to brake with my hands. When will they add the button to give a small electric shock to the person moving your chair?

Mary-Ann: It was reading the blogs of people with ME/CFS that I was educated and understood how much negative pressure there can be to conform to these societal "ideas" of what people in wheelchairs SHOULD be, when, at the end of the day, it is a mobility device.

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At 08:58 PM on 03 Jan 2008, Ellen Deller wrote:

Thanks so much for this article! My brother told me more than a decade ago that his wheelchair was a mode of transportation and not a way of life. I thought he was just repressing a lot of pain, but now I finally understand what he meant. Your wheelchair is like my glasses or my mom's dentures. We all use adaptations and aids of one kind or another, whether or not we identify as disabled or not.
Thanks again.

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At 01:30 AM on 05 Jan 2008, Margaret Stevens wrote:

Hello Elizabeth,
I am in Victoria, Australia and I would also like to use your post to assist in educating people without a disability. I would naturally identify you as the Author.
I am in a motorised mobility device and constantly get comments like those you highlight in this post.
I am on local & state committee's to help obtain equity for PWD's in all areas of our lives.

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At 05:59 PM on 05 Jan 2008, Michael D wrote:

Hi Elizabeth

I went through your article and found your article amazing. It was a very intelligently-writted and gives food for thought. Indeed I liked reading it alot and it is no wonder that some readers wished to forward your article to others. Articles like this one can be used to good effect in creating awareness snd educating people (particularly able-bodied ones).

Keep up your good work Elizabeth. Well done :)

By the way, I wish to forward your article to my contacts as well (and of course I'll include the necessary references, particularly your name & surname and the link to the source article).

Best regards
Michael

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At 06:13 PM on 05 Jan 2008, Michael D wrote:

Hi Elizabeth

I went through your article and found your article amazing. It was a very intelligently-writted and gives food for thought. Indeed I liked reading it alot and it is no wonder that some readers wished to forward your article to others. Articles like this one can be used to good effect in creating awareness snd educating people (particularly able-bodied ones).

Keep up your good work Elizabeth. Well done :)

By the way, I wish to forward your article to my contacts as well (and of course I'll include the necessary references, particularly your name & surname and the link to the source article).

Best regards
Michael

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At 10:49 AM on 06 Jan 2008, Michael D wrote:

Hi Elizabeth

I went through your article and found your article amazing. It was a very intelligently-writted and gives food for thought. Indeed I liked reading it alot and it is no wonder that some readers wished to forward your article to others. Articles like this one can be used to good effect in creating awareness snd educating people (particularly able-bodied ones).

Keep up your good work Elizabeth. Well done :)

By the way, I have forwarded your article to my contacts as well (and of course I have included the necessary references, particularly your name & surname and the link to the source article).

Best regards
Michael

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At 02:11 PM on 06 Jan 2008, Maggie Lee wrote:

I call my wheelchair my wheelie bin! and it's helped me get to places I could'nt normally get to. I can walk but not far and even my family do not understand my need for my wheelie bin on times, as you say it's a mobility device and it can be fun (especially when you look people in the eyes and dare them to look at you and then give them a lovely smile and talk to them) they seem so shocked?! We are normal, just a bit of a problem with walking!

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At 05:21 PM on 06 Jan 2008, Michael D wrote:

Hi Elizabeth

It's me again. Apologies for sending the same message three times cos each time I attempted to send the message it gave me an error, so I presumed that they didn't get through.

This morning I attempted again...and noticed that my previous messages went though (but too late).

In any case as I said you have really written a very praiseworthy article and keep up your good work.

Finally, I wish that one day there will be a similar article to create awareness about people with visual impairment (having a style similar to this one).

Best regards
Michael

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At 06:01 AM on 07 Jan 2008, Elizabeth McClung wrote:

Michael D: I have had the same problem with this rather 'erratic system' - I am glad that the article has been able to be of use, or that you think it can be of use to others.

I too would be very interested in a similar article for visual impairment (from you perhaps?). Thank you for your praise, and I will try to live up to it in future works.

Ellen Deller: Thanks, I am glad it was of some insight. To be honest, I was...er..attacking the PT's and wheelchair fitters and the doctors and in some ways the ideas of the disability community too. I mean, yes, I use my chair so much that it is like a part of me; but I need to remind myself sometimes that at the end of the day...it is a mobility device and if a better one comes along (hopefully with a jet pack), then that is what I will use.

Margaret Stevens: Please, you and any others have free use permission (I actually chose the fonting and the spacing so you can keep it as is or just chop it up as is useful to you). I am glad that this sort of attempt at articulation from times thinking in bed, or staring into space would come to a useful purpose. Totally unrelated: I just returned from a trip and I want to get a sign/bumper sticker for "There is no 'almost' in "wheelchair accessible" - I would have also like to mention that entering a resturant through where the garbage bins are stored isn't very moral boosting either (the 'accessible' door).

Maggie Lee: As you say, the concept of wheelchair=total immobility is so fixed; there was a profile on a Toronto TV interviewer and she has a spinal cord injury. But over the years she has had some improvement and can weight bear for a minute or two, and she talks about sitting at a bar, talking to the barman, then using the chair as a support, sliding off, walking a bit and getting into her wheelchair (and watching the guy's eyeballs bulge out). I use a wheelchair because it provides me with a better life with more options than one without it, not because I am in a hallmark movie - and it sounds like you are the same. There are no actually somber violin sounds when we sit or wheel in our chair (that's the movie), real life is, 'grunt', 'that BLEEB pothole!', etc

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