I’ve been extremely fortunate that, until a few weeks ago, I have never broken a bone or had a physical disability that made the. use of a wheelchair necessary.
I’ve sprained my ankle and pulled a hamstring in the past. These were minor inconveniences as I still got around pretty good and I was back to my usual Energizer Bunny status fairly quickly. I’m also deaf in my left ear, but this doesn’t hamper my mobility. (Yes, it’s a “disability,” but it’s one that I can control with my BAHA (bone activated hearing aid) or ear plugs, for the most part. Since living with the slow decline in hearing over 10 years, I’ve learned to deal with it quite well and find it more annoying than disabling.)
Being dependent on a wheelchair when I’m not at home on the boat has been an eye-opening experience. I’d like to share a few observations and suggestions from a temporarily disabled point of view:
- I am very self-conscious when in public. Upon arriving at a restaurant, for instance, people turn to stare. I can understand this is just curiosity, but it makes me feel as if I am on display. Hubby often has to weave between tables, get me settled and then find a place to put the wheelchair. (And God forbid that I should need to use the restroom before the meal is over; that in itself is a royal pain and I’ve learned to “go before I go” anywhere.) Normally, I’m very confident, but this experience has shaken my ego. When you see someone in a wheelchair, don’t just look them over or through them and turn away; offer a smile and a nod to make them feel seen. We all like to feel acknowledged and welcome.
- Access is the biggest obstacle and surprisingly very poor. Doors are tough to navigate through. Finding a ramp instead of stairs is challenging, and some ramps are extremely hard on my hubby to push/pull me up/down (especially boat ramps that become very steep with low tides). Even when a venue says it is “handicap accessible,” it may not be. Surfaces such as carpet and grass are extremely difficult for most regular-use wheelchairs. Ask if you can lend a hand when you see a person in a wheelchair and/or the caretaker struggling; hold the door for them, offer to carry a package or bag, or, if assistance is declined, show support with a “great job” comment.