Having a disability and being in a wheelchair presents a unique set of daily challenges that are hard enough on their own. Sometimes, able-bodied people add to the frustration. Here’s a short list of things that the able-bodied world does – mostly unintentionally – that makes having a disability harder than it needs to be.
- Standing in front of, or walking up and down ramps: If I had a dollar for every time someone chose to stand blocking a ramp to smoke a cigarette, I’d be rich. This is really unnecessary; there are so many other places to stand! And when I see a person walking up or down ramps, when there are stairs right there and the ramp is clearly meant for wheelchair users, I want to scream. Why can’t people use the working limbs that God gave them and walk up the stairs? A lot of times, the stairs would actually be easier than walking up a narrow, steeply graded and multi-sectioned ramp. When I ask these people to move, or I make them turn around and clear the ramp, they always look at me like I have three heads.
- Elevators: In a lot of cases, elevators are meant for everyone to use. Obviously, in a twenty-story building no one expects you to use the stairs. But in a shopping mall, subway station or a low-rise building where there might only be one elevator, nothing makes me madder than people piling into an elevator who would have no difficulty taking the stairs. Sometimes, the crush of able-bodied people is so large that I can’t even get in the elevator. Again, if I have the audacity to ask people politely if they could please take the stairs, because I actually need the elevator, dirty looks and muttered curses are known to abound. Again, people refuse to use their working limbs.
- Automatic doors: Sometimes, I’m extremely lucky if there is even an automatic door into a building at all. If there is, I’m not pushing the button for the benefit of the dozens of able-bodied people around me. It astounds me that when I push a button for an automatic door, people see it open and just shove past me to go through it. So, I get stepped over and then by the time I go through the door, it shuts on me.
- Wheelchair bathrooms: This is tricky, in some ways. If public bathrooms are small and there are only say, five stalls or less, I can’t fault people for using the wheelchair washroom stall. That being said, if there’s a lineup and people see me waiting, I will stop an able-bodied person from going into the wheelchair stall before me. If the washrooms are large and long with a ton of stalls and there is no lineup, I have no patience for able-bodied people using wheelchair stalls unnecessarily. If I’m waiting and I see a young, capable person emerge from the ONE stall that I can use, I will give them a dirty look, make no mistake. If someone takes longer than I would take and I’m waiting for upwards of five minutes, I’ll start banging on the door. Wheelchair stalls do not exist for the express purpose of allowing you space to put your shopping bags down while you pee.
- Over-helping: I have my own way of doing things. I know how to wrestle through a non-automatic door, fight with my coats, twist to get things out of the messenger bag behind me and manage to do an acceptable job cutting my food (most of the time). It’s not graceful, but it gets the job done. If I need help, I have no problem asking. People who don’t know me will usually fall into one of two camps: they’re completely stunned, and might be afraid to offer help or, they jump right in and just start doing everything. Sometimes, what people think is helpful only makes things more difficult. It may look awkward, but there is a specific way I have to get my coats on/off, and if someone jumps in to help, it just makes it worse. If I’m half way through a door that I’ve managed to open and am in the midst of driving through, ripping the door out of my hands to open it for me complicates a task that is essentially already done. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help, but it’s always better to ask if I need help and how you can help, before you just jump in and start doing things.
If there’s anything you would add to this list, tell me in the comments!! There are many more I could have included, but then the list would be as long as I am tall. This list will be revisited in the future!
Layla Guse Salah