There’s something about awkwardness and disability that seem to be intrinsically linked. Nobody likes awkward situations but when you have a disability it’s nigh on impossible to avoid. The majority of the times I leave my house I’ll be faced with an uncomfortable situation.
I’m a powerchair user but I also rock a set of crutches, and for some reason that is very difficult for some people to comprehend. Living with chronic pain means that my condition varies, every day I’m in pain but some days are a lot worse than others. I use crutches around the house and a powerchair outdoors, so mostly strangers see me in a chair. When I’m out and about, I get stiff, sore, my muscles spasm, my body aches and I need to stand up from my chair to stretch; this is where the problem lies. Not with me, although I’m in a lot of pain and that’s a problem in itself, but with the public. The second my footplate is raised and I’m rising from my chair as if a deity from above has reached down and pulled me to my feet, all eyes are on me. You can almost hear their necks snap as they turn to give all their attention to the ‘miracle’ that has just taken place before them.
No, I wasn’t touched by the hand of god. No, I haven’t suddenly been cured. My legs work; they just really hurt and don’t work as well as I’d like them to. As a matter of fact, everything hurts. For me, my chronic pain is so widespread that even my fingers are painful. That’s why I use a powerchair; to help me manage the pain. If you didn’t know that people use wheelchairs for chronic pain and for a variety of other reasons, here’s me issuing my public service announcement.
I guess there are a lot of archaic attitudes when it comes to what it means to use a wheelchair, as some people believe that all users are incapable of walking. This makes it really difficult for people like me. I don’t want to get up out of my wheelchair and stretch to ease some of the pain because I know there’ll be eyes on me, judging me, wondering whether I’m faking my disability. I would rather suffer in my chair, than get up, take a few steps and hear audible gasps from strangers. If I’m desperate to move around and fearful of how my ‘chair ascension’ will look to others, I scope out a disabled toilet and use that as a safe place to stand, stretch and reposition.
Should I have to do that? Why are people so shocked that a wheelchair user can stand and/or walk? Why is our society constantly insinuating that wheelchair users all require chairs for the same reason? We all have different abilities, different conditions. Some people use wheelchairs full-time and some people don’t. But by making it obvious that you’re looking, being shocked, gasping, glaring, taking pictures, making negative comments towards those of us that aren’t full-time users is making it really difficult for us to be ourselves, be comfortable and to change the way people think.
I want the stigma and awkwardness surrounding standing up from a wheelchair to dissipate. I want people to stop making memes about miracles, and accusing people of cheating the system. In an ideal world I’d stand up from my chair and I wouldn’t receive a second glance.
Furthermore, when I’m using my crutches and there’s clearly no cast on my foot, please don’t ask me, ‘what have you done to your leg?’ It only results in an uncomfortable stand-off with me explaining, ‘nothing recently, I’m disabled.’ Why I’m using crutches, splints, a wheelchair is my business, and although I’m quite open to answering questions (as long as they come from a good place), a lot of other people might be offended, because at the end of the day it’s a very personal question to ask someone you’ve never met before.
All I want is a bit of thought before commenting or staring. If you’ve never seen a wheelchair user stand, don’t sensationalise it, it’s not affecting your life. Help me get the word out that being in a wheelchair doesn’t mean the same for every user. Not everyone is paralysed. Not everyone unable to walk.
It's really not a big deal. I can stand up from my wheelchair but that doesn't mean my disability is any less valid. Trust me, if a miracle occurred, I'd let you know.