Monday, April 19, 2010

Top Ten Things That Annoy People in Wheelchairs

In a recent poll done by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, wheelchair users were asked :

What do family, friends, and strangers do to you when you are using your chair that annoys you?

Here are their answers:

Patting me on my head. Don't. (I do my hair every morning.) 4.9%

Speaking slowly to me because I'm in a wheelchair. 3.2%

Being asked, "So if I shot you in the leg, you wouldn't feel it?" 0.9%

Not inviting me to an event because you are protecting me from some frustration. (Let me figure it out.) 4.8%

Able-bodied people parking in handicapped spaces. (So what if you have the tag!) 38.6%

Holding onto the back of my chair so I can't move. 4.2%

Talking over my head as if I'm not here. 8.3%

Accessible bathroom stalls being used by an able-bodied person. 12.7%

Congratulating me for things like going to the grocery store like it's worthy of an Olympic medal. .2%

Strangers asking what happened to me. 5.3%

Continuing to insist on helping me after I've said no thanks. 8.4%

Being asked if you want a shopping cart for your grocery bags. (How can I wheel my chair and push a shopping cart?) 0.3%

A restaurant hostess asking if I want a booth. 2.2%

After using a wheelchair for 17 years, I've experienced each of these things- more than once - and some of them on a fairly frequent basis. And although I've learned to handle some of these with humor or assertiveness skills ( e.g., when someone talks over my head, I immediately speak up to reinsert myself into the conversation), it's great to see a survey like this that can help people understand a wheelchair user's point of view.


Greg (Accessible Hunter) said...

Ruth, great post I also added a few over at my site. Hopefully things are going well with you and your spring cleaning (tree removal) is all completed. Have a great day!

Ruth said...


Thanks and I echo the ones you added at your blog.

We're getting there with the tree removal. Wishing you a great day too!

Matthew Smith said...

It's kind of rude, grabbing someone's wheelchair so they can't go anywhere - the only way to do that to anyone else would be to physically grab part of their body, and you just wouldn't do that.

There was a scene in Ben Elton's book Gridlock, which is about a guy with cerebral palsy called Geoffrey who invented a hydrogen engine, which led to the CEO of a big motor company stealing the design and assassinating him, in which the hero's intended girlfriend, who was paraplegic, was sent into the motor company's London HQ to retrieve the design. Geoffrey set up an array of improvised weapons on Deborah's wheelchair, among them a bare wire attached to a car battery, so that she could shock anyone who tried to grab her chair! Sadly I think such a device would be banned under "offensive weapons" laws in the UK.

Unknown said...

As MiLady's wheelchair motor, I've seen a couple more:
* stepping in front of a wheelchair in an art show, parade, or store as if they weren't there because they want to see something (because the wheelchair grants magical powers to see thru people, apparently); and
* grabbing the chair handles from the person pushing and then pretending the person accompanying the person in the wheelchair doesn't exist (because pushing is such a chore, so we should just be glad of the help, ignoring the fact that YOU JUST STOLE MY WIFE FROM ME! But that's just my bug).

Great list -- thanks for publishing it!

Anonymous said...

While I can't speak for what it's like to have to use a wheel chair, I can speak for what it's like to have an invisible disability. I'm intermittently oxygen dependent, but my oxygen concentrator looks like just another bag when combined with my backpack and purse. On good days, I don't have to use it. On really good days, I even run to class. But always, always, always, I have to park in the handicapped spaces, because what might start out as a good day could become very bad by the time I get out of class. Also, from the same illness, I have allergy induced seizures. My friend has violent allergy induced muscle spasms. Neither qualify us for handicapped parking, but I often drive my friend places so that she can take advantage of my placard, so that she (and I) can get to a clean, controlled environment as quickly as possible. The handicapped placard is often more useful to me in keeping a safe space nearby so that I can get to it quickly (even on days I can run) than for preventing over stressing my lungs. I look able-bodied when I don't need my oxygen at a given moment. My friend looks able-bodied. Yet we both have a legitimate need for handicapped parking. (My friend avoids dealing with her legal ineligibility for handicapped parking by not driving at all, and bumming rides off friends who do have placards). I'm sure people with more obvious disabilities have looked at me and thought I was unfairly hogging a handicapped space. Right now, my university is cracking down on people who are using placards but not disabled. I keep getting ticketed on days I come or go to my car without using oxygen, and it's gotten to the point where I wear it just to prevent the hassle.

I don't want to derail, and I look at most of the things on this list and my blood just boils with fury that people have the gall to disrespect other people that way. If you feel this post does that, please either not approve it or delete it. However, I'm sick of other people with disabilities making judgments about whether or not I'm disabled and then treating me like scum fir using the services I need to accommodate my disability.

RehaDesign said...

Excellent post Ruth. And interesting comment by attackfish

PS: I can see how you got your name!! :)

Anonymous said...

Did you see the episode of House where he lost his handicapped parking spot to some one in an electric wheelchair?

It brought up some good points. I walk with a cane and am in constant pain from degenerative discs and failed back surgery. A rare form of MD that runs in my family is causing the muscles in my legs to slowly wear out.

I also am less than 40 years old.

If you saw me out and about on a good day, early in the day before I had done much walking and at that magical 15 minutes or so that the pain pills actually help some, It may look like I should save that parking space for some one who "needs it" because they are in a wheelchair.

I assure you I do not have the pull with my Dr. to get him to break the law.

I watch the handicapped spaces now, my blood boils when I see some one park with out the tag that seems able bodied. If I see the tag, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt. They may be have borrowed grandma's car and the placard that came with it. In which case I hope they get caught and punished. (Placards in our state contain coded info about the age,gender, height, weight and disability of the person they were issued for). It is not my place to make the call. There can be many reasons I can't see that justify the need of the parking place.