Welcome back to another Mobility Monday! You may be surprised to learn that I actually went out this week… twice! Once, to drop off some belated birthday and get well presents (socially distanced over the garden fence) to some lovely friends and a second time as a family to go and get our ‘flu jabs. I think it’s been our first ‘family outing’ since March, what a treat.
I thought about writing about my journey but honestly, who wants to hear about dodging the copious piles of dog poo and navigating the uneven, shattered glass covered streets of deepest Penge? Of course my superb Lith-Tech wheelchair got me there and back safely, even with these nasty obstacles. I sometimes forget how easy it is to journey through some of the most wheelchair-unfriendly back streets with my Smart Chair 1XL, as the days of tipping over at the slightest incline and rattling around until I ground to a halt are a faraway memory of last year now.
So instead of gracing you with the excitement of a blow by blow account of my GP trip, I thought I’d do a cheeky/grumpy top 10 list of Super Annoying Things Wheelchair Users Have To Deal With.
1. Blocked Pavements
Be it a car parked with wheels on the pavement, some furniture or a pile of rubbish bags dumped outside a house, a lorry ‘just dropping something off’ or dog poo and nappies strewn across the path, blocked pavements are a bit of a nightmare to deal with when travelling on wheels. I have often had to wheel out into and down a road to avoid blockages such as these when I can’t clear them or squeeze past by myself, which can be extremely dangerous, especially when I’ve got my younger son with me. Knowing the pavements and routes you travel is pretty essential when you’re a wheelchair user as there are already so many obstacles to juggle such as overhanging trees and a lack of dropped kerbs. Adding unexpected pavement blocking to the situation makes journeying an anxiety inducing experience and often adds precious time to the journey too.
2. High Desks
One of the most awkward experiences is sitting there behind an average to large height desk or bar type situation with no way of letting the person behind know you’re there apart from shouting or waving. I’ve gone through this so many times and each time I die a little bit more of embarrassment! I last faced this at our local emergency walk-in (hah!) when I had dislocated my knee. I was wearing a mask, the receptionist was too. A loud conversation was going on in the next room and the radio was playing. She had absolutely no idea I was there until I was waving with an extra-raised voice in the hopes she’d see or hear me. It’s not her fault or mine, someone simply doesn’t expect to have to stand up and look down behind a large desk to see someone else, as most times the person’s head is visible on the other side! It’s unexpected and therefore is usually a shock to the person behind the counter and almost always super awkward once they realise you’ve been trying to get their attention! Cue lots of very British apologies until the ground opens up and swallows us all in to a chasm of embarrassment.
We couldn’t speak of embarrassment without mentioning the staring. This was something I found really weird when I first started needing to use a powered mobility aid to get around. No one seemed to notice or care when I was a double crutch user but the second I was using a mobility scooter, and then later my wheelchair, I seemed to attract so many stares. I’m still not sure why to this day. I suppose it’s human nature to try and work out why something is different. What is wrong with that person? Why is she using a wheelchair when she can move her legs? Isn’t she too young? Is she faking? Of course now I chose to believe they’re thinking ‘Who is this awesome person and what is that awesome wheelchair?!’ but when you first start using a mobility aid, this kind of relentless, silent staring from a lot of people is really quite eerie.
4. Public Transport
Need I say more? No… but of course I’m going to. Public transport is still very much inaccessible to people with mobility issues. It’s super hard to navigate your way to a lot of places. Ramps are un-checked and unreliable, staff at train stations aren’t trained or communication fails between them, leaving disabled passengers stranded. Other passengers can be extremely inpatient and rude. I’ve even been climbed over as I was holding someone up for a few seconds. Yep, just seconds! If you’re a disabled person and you use public transport regularly, all my respect to you. There is no way I could do it after my own personal experiences.
5. Help Without Asking
Help is a bit of a taboo subject. Of course it’s often born out of care but having help forced upon you as a disabled person is really not the one. My wheelchair is an extension of me. Having it grabbed and pushed without my consent is awful. I can’t really describe the feeling but when it happens, it feels terrible. Similarly when someone leans on me like I’m a piece of furniture, it’s just horrid. I do need help with a lot of things, which is why I have a carer. At the same time, I’m still a person with needs and desires. If I want a particular piece of delicious cake on a supermarket shelf that’s a bit high up, I’ll try and get it. If I can’t reach it, I’ll ask for help. I don’t need someone to climb over me without warning and hand me a rubbish bit of cake I didn’t want, in an effort to help me. I know it might sound like I’m being ungrateful and I understand to some it might feel like navigating around someone with disabilities is a bit of a minefield but it’s pretty easy when it comes down to it. Just ask us, like you would anyone else. We don’t bite… unless it’s a full moon!
On that spooky note (sorry I’m a little Halloween obsessed at the moment), I’ll leave the second half to next week, where I’ll be sharing the last 5 points of my Super Annoying Things Wheelchair Users Have To Deal With.