Things people in wheelchairs would like the able bodied world to know.

1. We are not our disability.

There are many different reasons why people use wheelchairs, but one thing we all have in common is that we were not born in our wheelchair. Using a wheelchair can make you feel both invisible and infamous. Often it seems that people do not see us at all. They see the chair, and ignore or avoid the person inside it.

Sometimes it seems as if people who are healthy feel a “survivor’s guilt” and attempt to avoid interaction with us. The thing is, ignoring disability doesn’t make it go away. Most of us are happy to explain a little more about our disability, or just have some normal conversation for a while. We are intelligent, insightful people, who for many interesting reasons happen to need a wheelchair. We need to be seen and treated as such

2. We like sex!

This kind of goes hand in hand with not being our disability. Many people in wheelchairs are physically capable of experiencing and enjoying all aspects of sex that non-disabled people enjoy. Many of us have particular skills or special equipment that can take sex to a whole new level of enjoyment. Even those of us who have problems with our “equipment” still experience the thoughts, feelings, and desires that are such a vital part of the human experience.

Websites like FetLife can be a place for people, both in and out of wheelchairs, to explore various sexual aspects involving disabilities. The ability to explore sexuality through the internet allows disabled people to be set free, temporarily at least, from the constraints of our bodies, but real sex is nice occasionally too. If you think someone is “too hot to be in a wheelchair”, why don’t you try replacing that phrase with “too hot for me to ignore” and get to know us? You might end up being one of the few lucky people who get to see us as a highly sexual being.

3. The handicapped spots are there for a reason. The reason is not so that able bodied people can park upfront if they are in a hurry.

Most handicapped parking spots are wider than standard spots, not simply because we like wide spots, but because we need the space to get our wheelchairs in and out of the vehicle. We don’t want to bump or scratch the car next to us, and that alone should be enough of a reason for you to park elsewhere, but just in case, here are couple more reasons:

Even loading bags in the car from a seated position can require extra room to pull your chair along the side of a vehicle, requiring a wider spot.

Many people with handicapped stickers or tags can still walk, but only for short distances. Never judge anyone who has a permit. The reasons they have it might not be visible.

4. The accessible bathroom stalls are there for a reason.

Ever wonder why the handicapped stall is so big? It is so that wheelchair users can get in and still shut and lock the stall door. Most of us have suffered the frustration of “accessible” stalls which aren’t actually big enough for us to shut the door behind the chair. Privacy is a privilege we often don’t get enough of, so when you take the only stall we could actually fit it, it is annoying, to say the least.

You might not like the cramped quarters of a regular stall, especially if you are taking a dump, but we literally can only fit in the big ones no matter what we are in there for. Some of us have catheters, or disposable underwear, or other medical necessities that make the additional room vital, not to mention we actually need the grab bars, raised toilet seats and other accommodations a handicapped stall provides, so next time you are tempted, sacrifice your personal comfort for the possibility of someone else’s necessity, and find a different stall.

5. If I don’t have a “job” it doesn’t mean I don’t work.

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is over twice that of people without disabilities. There are many physical factors that effect this, but there is also a social discrimination many of us experience during our job searches. A lot of people in wheelchairs turn to careers in the arts, or advocacy careers, where physical concerns aren’t as detrimental. Online employment has created additional employment opportunities for people limited by their mobility, but many of us are technically unemployed. That fact does not mean we are not a productive member of society, or that we are lazy, or useless.

6. Help is never pushy (unless I’m wheeling a marathon or something).

Most of us in wheelchairs appreciate help in certain situations, like reaching something on a high shelf or putting something heavy in our basket; but we don’t often need a personal shopping assistant. If it looks like we could use help, please offer, but don’t be offended or pushy if we want to do something by ourselves.

 Also, those of us in manual chairs often prefer pushing ourselves. Being pushed by a stranger can be terrifying, as the “pusher” often isn’t as conscious of what they are running our feet into. We also can easily make subtle maneuvers to navigate through crowds by wheeling our own chair.

It doesn’t hurt to ask if a wheelchair user needs help, but pushing your way into “helping the handicapped” doesn’t do either of us any favors.

7. Sitting all day is uncomfortable.

Everyone knows the horrors of having to sit through some long boring service or meeting. Your butt, and the rest of your body can be almost unbearable. Not only do we experience the sore butt from sitting all the time, many of us have pain or discomfort from other aspects of our disabilities. Please understand if we occasionally get cranky or snippy. Sometimes it is hard to put on a happy face when we are experiencing physical discomfort.

8. If it seems like I’m in a hurry I probably am.

Some of us experience incontinence, which means we hurry to use the restroom. Also, being disabled makes many simple tasks take a very long time, so by the time we are dressed and out in public, odds are we are running late for something. If you notice me going fast in my wheelchair, it is probably not the best time to tell me how your second cousin was miraculously cured of whatever by doing whatever. Some days have plenty of time for those conversations, but if you have to speed-walk to keep up with me, it’s not a good time to chat.

9. My body is not glued to the chair.

I can and do transfer to the bed, toilet, couch, vehicle, etc. Many of us have foldable manual chairs which can be used if we ride with a friend to some event, but people sometimes seem to forget we aren’t attached to our chair. Feel free to invite us along on any of your adventures. If it is something we want to do, we will find a way to do it without using our legs, trust in our adaptive abilities. We are highly skilled professionals in the art of adaptation.

10. Our eye level is way below yours.

In fact, it is typically right at butt level. This can be a nice view at times, but in can also be quite uncomfortable in open fly or especially gassy situations. It also means that many things quite obvious to you, might be difficult or impossible for us to see from our vantage point. Don’t expect us to clean, organize, or fix what we can’t even see.

11. We can be inspirational, but we’re not your inspiration porn. 

Being “inspirational” is a compliment given to most of us who face life in a chair. It does take courage and strength just to function with a disability, but there is an unspoken pressure placed on people with disabilities to “inspire” others.

Some days we feel frustrated, humiliated, or simply sick and tired. On days like that, we don’t want to give you a pep talk, or show you how great life is. Some days we want to cry. To be as weak as our bodies, and collapse into a funk that no one would misinterpret as inspiration. We should be able to do so, without worrying that someone will see the truth and be somehow less “inspired”.

Overall, we want people to know that we are normal people who use special chairs. We aren’t stronger or weaker, more or less intelligent, or any other stereotype. We are individuals, with individual challenges and capabilities. We appreciate your help when we need it but we appreciate your respect even more. Our status as a wheelchair user should have little bearing on how you treat us. It all comes back to treating people the way you want to be treated, and respecting the differences we all have. The world can be beautiful from every vantage point if we all have the vision to see it.

Ronald writes and speaks with a raw intensity rarely seen in this politically correct world. Buy his book. The world needs to see beyond our visible differences to recognize that we are much more than our appearance. Much more than whatever disability we have. Society 

The Captain and I worked together to create the following list.