I have been using a wheelchair nearly full time in public for a decade now. Over the years, a lot of my pre-conceived ideas about using a wheelchair have gone by the wayside. Here are some of the things I’d say to someone new coming to using a wheelchair.
- There is no right way.
- You don’t really need a story.
- Don’t wheel too close to home.
- Don’t do anything that could impact negatively on the next wheeler that comes after you.
- Actual tips about wheeling.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is to relax, and take your time. The more tense you are, the less pleasant the experience will be.
There is no right way
Nor is there really a wrong way. There are so many disability types and each disability impacts on people so differently that there is not one right way to push a wheelchair, or one wrong way to do so. Two people with the same level of SCI will have completely different impact in their ability to do things.
There are obviously things you shouldn’t do, like jumping out of the wheelchair and walking (unless you have a mean humorous streak and start yelling “Alleluia, it’s a miracle!”, but that’s not such a good idea anyway…)
By and large, however, the right way is the way that works for you. If you understand how your “preferred” disability would affect you, you’ll be better able to know what you can and can’t do. For example, a high level SCI wouldn’t allow you to easily bend down to pick things off the floor, or get back up in a sitting position.
You don’t really need a story
While it’s good to think ahead of time of what you might say if you’re asked why you’re in the chair, you don’t really need to have a story. It is perfectly all right to say that you don’t want to talk about it. Nosy people are nosy and should be put back in their place (nicely) at times.
Of course, you may *want* to chat with them, and discuss your “disability”. Perhaps for you, part of the fun is to be able to talk about why you’re wheeling (not the real reason). If that’s the case, just make sure you don’t over complicate the story so you paint yourself into a corner. Much better to avoid lies where you can.
Don’t wheel too close to home
Well, that’s probably obvious, but… You don’t want to get caught wheeling by someone who doesn’t’ know you are into wheeling. It’s not a bad idea to always go to the same area in the chair, and only go there as a wheeler. Chances are that people won’t notice. They’d not think twice about seeing you walking and seeing you wheeling and thinking you’re the same person. But if your face becomes known well enough, people might question.
In general, people don’t look closely at wheelers. But go often enough at the same place, in the same store, at the same movie theatre, particularly in a small town/city, and you’ll become known.
Don’t do anything that could impact negatively on the next wheeler that comes after you
Above all, be respectful.
You don’t want to do something stupid that might impact how the person after you will be treated. For example, don’t go and ask a passer-by to change your diaper. No one with a disability would do that (unless they were on the verge of dying, and even then…). It’s one thing to ask for help getting a can off from a high shelf at the grocery store, another to do what I mention here.
So, think, use common sense (which isn’t so common, I know).
Actual tips about wheeling itself…
Well, I won’t give you much of that. You have to figure it out for yourself. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you.
The one thing I would say is, if you practice wheelies, which I know you will (who wouldn’t?!?), and you feel yourself falling backwards; tuck your head in, chin against chest. Like that, you’re going to hit the ground on your back. You may be winded a bit, but you won’t crack your skull. While it might be embarrassing explaining to the EMS crew why you are lying with a broken skull beside your wheelchair that you don’t “really” need, the thing is, you don’t really want a TBI.
The rest, well, get yourself in a chair, and wheel. You’ll get dumped out a few times, you’ll get stuck a few times, and you’ll work out what is the best way to handle each situation.