Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wheelchair rage

I've heard the words "road rage" over and over again, but rarely have heard anyone refer to wheelchair rage. Yet I see things happen that warrant using the term, anything from people expecting wheelchair users to always defer to walkers and then overreacting when they don't, to incidents where folks bully or even assault those in wheelchairs, possibly causing injury.

This is not to imply, by the way, that all people in wheelchairs require coddling nor is it a suggestion that wheelchair users should go first. But there's a difference between expecting a wheelchair user to wait to be the last one to leave a theater when it's emptying and reasonably accommodating him or her in the flow of traffic. Due to the often segregated treatment of people with disabilities and "special" accommodations (that may not be so "special"), our society still is trying to understand what it looks like to include people with disabilities in the crowd.

Much like road rage, wheelchair rage occurs when someone decides he or she wants to be first or someone else does something that annoys him/her or gets in their way. Due to the common misperception that wheelchairs will slow others down (when actually wheelchairs go faster), wheelchair rage can happen upon the mere sight of a wheelchair. Unfortunately, this can lead to overreactions that create problems and situations.

Some people just have to say something, for example. It can range from verbal wheelchair rage by saying things like "Your wheelchair is in the way" to an endearing remark like "It would be best if you waited until everyone else passes". I've learned over the years that a sense of humor works best, especially in a crowd. Ignoring such remarks also works. I've learned not to get into debates about my civil right to move about like the rest of the world. It's similar to dealing with someone who commits road rage. He or she has decided that wheelchairs are a problem and do not fit his or her agenda, and sees nothing wrong with breaking laws, i.e. like passing illegally and unsafely on the wrong side.

I've also seen people commit physical acts of wheelchair rage in crowds by going into line in front of me, stepping over my footrests and blocking me and holding up their arms to try to prevent me from moving forward. Sometimes, just as with road rage, there isn't much one can do for safety reasons. And since it's often not seen as wheelchair rage, the person doing it is sometimes hailed as a self appointed traffic cop, even the "go to guy" who keeps things from getting out of hand.

Some people just don't believe there is a way for wheelchair users and those on foot to move equally about this world because they have never seen it. Things are changing. The more mobile wheelchair users get, the more places we appear, the more we are able to get out and show up, the more chances people will have to see how smoothly we can all exit together, share aisles in stores, and sit in the same restaurants without much of a fuss.

And then maybe we'll see fewer instances of wheelchair rage. Of course, considering that road rage is out there, it won't disappear. There will always be people who have to be first and will risk anything to do that. But a few less times hearing that I'm in the way would be appreciated.


FridaWrites said...

I know what you mean. It seems when other people are "in the way," people just say, "excuse me."

While some people will let me continue forward, others will force me to stop for no reason, when they could go around me. I've also been told "be careful" when I am extraordinarily careful, in contrast to walkies.

I've had the line cutting and traffic cop thing happen a lot too. I don't understand it. I've also had people try to push me out of the way--the scooter alone weighs 150 lbs! I don't have footrests, but kids often try to climb over my platform to the scooter--putting their feet on it--or adults squeeze between me and a shelf or wall when there isn't room to do so and there is plenty of room on the other side and they're going to be hurting me and themselves. The reason they do this is that the one step around the scooter is too long to take.

I've also had people try to physically block me from going forward because they didn't want people taking a certain route--not realizing that I was taking the only accessible route. But instead of just coming up to me and speaking, they surrounded me and physically prevented my movement. That's just wrong.

I don't think that there's any reason I can't move along in some people traffic too, just as I would on foot, only people seem to not use the same manners they do when I'm standing--both moving aside for one another.

Often I do opt to be last just because I don't want the jostling.

At first I just thought this was my personal experience or I was doing something wrong. And more recently, that it was from using a scooter rather than a wheelchair. I can see that's not so.

If there's time, I've asked people not to go over my platform or squeeze past me, saying that's dangerous to you and to me--and then they get it somewhat. It's easy for people to trip over the scooter.

Wheelie Catholic said...

Frida - thanks for your comments about your experiences The first time I was told to "be careful" I assumed a mother was talking to her kid since at the time I was not doing anything out of the ordinary and her kid was darting in and out around folks and I was also being extraordinarily careful- geeze can people be more patronizing in the way they speak to an adult with a disability sometimes?

After reading your comments, I'm going to add that when I was using a manual chair as a quad: I've had people step on my feet and footplates, necessitating repairs to wheelchairs that are out of pocket and have also been pushed into walls, jamming me in a manual chair when I could not do much about it, being a quad with gumby arms. In the power chair I am protected better.

FridaWrites said...

I have had some people explain to younger kids or to teens that they needed to move out of the way. One difficult thing for me is that I can't get very close to people to say, "excuse me" if they don't see me. Have also had people walk right in front of me without looking and get mad because I almost hit them! I don't want to hit anyone either.

I'm sorry you've had repairs that've come from your own pocket (and at an expense to your mobility for a while too, I'm sure). I have had people try to pull up on my seat to move the scooter when I'm not sitting in it, which makes me cringe--it's a power seat and I'm afraid they'll break it.

I taught my babies when they were toddlers to give people with assistive devices room, long before I thought I'd need them again for myself, and wish more people would do so. It's just a matter of courtesy. Well, more than.

I woke up dreaming the Strangers and Angels song. :)

Wheelie Catholic said...

Frida- Scooters do make it harder to get close enough to people for them to hear you.

As for Strangers and Angels- I love that song :)

Daisy said...

thanks for sharing your thoughts with those of us who are still mobile. I admire your abilities very much.

Barbara, writing as/for Daisy

Wheelie Catholic said...

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Barbara (and Daisy). What a great blog you have.