Since becoming visibly disabled in 2013, after several years in the invisible camp, I have been anxious about seeing people I used to know, and meeting new people. Not just the inevitable “what happened?” (answer: “technically nothing, I was born with this”), but the misguided sympathy I now get for being a wheelchair user. Non-disabled people tend to see the wheelchair as The Worst Thing That Could Ever Happen to someone – look at the terminology used: wheelchair-bound; stuck in a chair; confined to a wheelchair…. but they don’t think of the alternative. Before I had my electric wheelchair, I would leave the house once or twice a week, as it caused me that much pain to walk and the knock on effects weren’t worth it. Now, as long as I’m not in a bad fatigue phase, and can get what passes for “dressed” enough, I can go out multiple days in a row with only minor consequences. Without their wheelchairs, tens of thousands of people in this country would have no access to education, work, or a life outside of their homes.
The futon is my prison, and the wheelchair is my freedom and my best friend.
I will admit to getting a bit (extra) depressed from time to time because I miss being able to do the things I used to love – dancing, climbing, scrambling, hiking (basically anything involving going up mountains), kayaking – but what people often fail to understand is that even if I didn’t need my wheelchair, or the crutches I sometimes use, I wouldn’t be able to do these things anymore anyway. The wheelchair is not the symptom of my condition or my limitations, it is the thing that helps me continue to do what I have left. So don’t aim your sympathy at my wheelchair -maybe channel it into anger at the lack of wheelchair access I and other disabled people face instead!