From access issues to annoying experiences with strangers, being a wheelchair user brings with it its own unique quirks, as well as positives. Disability Horizons writer Raya AlJadir, shares 10 truths about being a wheelchair user from the perspective of a woman. How many of these ring true for you? Share your experiences by leaving your comments below…
1. Fashion is tricky if you’re a wheelchair user
Throughout my life, I have struggled to find the right clothes and shoes because of being in a wheelchair. As a teenager, I loved the idea of wearing high heels. But doing so would have changed my already compromised posture dramatically and I would have seriously struggled to support myself at all.
I also loved long evening dresses. But these are problematic too as they’re incredibly likely to get stuck in the wheels. I was a bridesmaid at my friend’s wedding and my outfit included a long scarf. It looked beautiful, but I had to fold it into several layers and wrap it around my arm to stop it from getting tangled in my wheels.
2. You often get the best seat in the house
As well as annoyances, being a wheelchair user has its many positive points, too. One of them is sometimes getting the best seat and a great view of the action. It also means that you don’t have to sit in the venue’s seat, which can often be uncomfortable, I’ve been told. Instead, I can stay in my chair, tailored to my posture.
3. You get lots of stares – sometimes from men
You will, regularly, be started and gawped at by strangers – it’s the norm. However, as a female wheelchair user, I seem to get more stares from men. It always makes me feel far more uncomfortable that when women and children stare. It is as if they are examining me with their eyes. It’s also rather confusing – are they looking at me because they are interested in me, or is it the usual wheelchair curiosity?
4. You’ve got to keep your wheels clean
As my wheelchair is my constant companion and goes into my home and bedroom, it is essential that my wheels are kept clean. I, therefore, have to be extra careful when driving outside to avoid anything that could result in a massive clean-up job. The worst offenders are mud, chewing gum and dog poo.
Avoiding these isn’t always straightforward, and I have experienced issues several times. I once had to endure a really bad smell on my wheels for days, as well as funny looks from people who thought it was me that smelt.
5. You can get to the front of the queue
Another positive of being a wheelchair user is being offered to skip the queue, whether it is at the theatre, museum or even in some shops. I, of course, take them up on the offer. It would be rude not to!
6. Visiting the hairdresser isn’t easy
Getting my hair cut, dyed or styled has always been a challenging task. Most hairdressers get quite flustered when they see a wheelchair user coming! Even if the saloon itself is accessible and step-free, the hairdresser can sometimes be reluctant to cut my hair because they struggle to get around the wheelchair.
I also can’t get my hair washed at the hairdresser’s sink because of my wheelchair’s backrest. Nothing a little ingenuity can’t fix. But some hairdressers are far more phased than others.
7. Your wheelchair will share your food
Whenever I go out for a meal, I find that the tables are a wide variety of heights. They are either too high or really low. Either way, I often need help to reach my food. Because of this, in most situations, my wheelchair ends up with the majority of my meal all over it! People can usually tell what I had for dinner by the traces of crumbs.
8. You have to be on high alert to avoid people walking and texting
As well as being alert to avoid running over smelly obstacles, I have to be extra aware of people who walk while using their smartphone. Being totally absorbed in their phones means that simply don’t look where they are going. As the wheelchair is not at their height, they often don’t realise they are walking straight into it and me. So I either have to shout or try and swerve to avoid them.
9. You set alarms off
If you are an electric wheelchair user, then you will know very well how whenever you enter or leave a shop, the security alarm will beep. So, as if I haven’t already had enough people stare at me, I get the security staff and anyone in the vicinity looking at me with suspicion, as though I have used my chair to shoplift. Although I explain that the alarm is sensitive to my wheelchair’s batteries, I am still asked to open my bag for it to be searched.
10. Many of your friends’ houses are off limits
It’s the most obvious and biggest issue associated with being a wheelchair user – so many places are off limits. But this isn’t only the case for public spaces. I am unable to go to many of my friends’ houses as they are not accessible. When you’ve known someone for 20 years, it’s a bit weird when you have never visited their house.
By Raya AlJadir