By Nina Grant
The wheelchair is not the symptom of my condition or my limitations—it is the thing that helps me continue to do what I do. So don’t aim your sympathy at my wheelchair. Instead, channel it into anger at the lack of wheelchair access that I and other disabled people face!
Since becoming visibly disabled in 2013, after several years in the invisible camp, I have become anxious about seeing people I used to know and meeting new people. Not just the inevitable “What happened?” (answer: “Technically, nothing—I was born with this”), but the misguided sympathy I now get for being a wheelchair user.
Non-disabled people tend to see a wheelchair as The Worst Thing That Could Ever Happen to someone. Look at the terminology that is often used: Wheelchair-bound; stuck in a chair; confined to a wheelchair. But they don’t think about the alternative. Before I had my electric wheelchair, I would leave the house just once or twice a week. It caused me that much pain to walk, and the knock-on effects weren’t worth it. Now, as long as I’m not in a bad fatigue phase and can get dressed (or, at least, dressed enough) then I can go out for several days in a row with only minor consequences. Without their wheelchairs, tens of thousands of people in this and other countries would have no access to education, work or a life outside of their home.
The futon is my prison—the wheelchair is my freedom and my best friend.
I will admit to getting a bit (extra) depressed from time to time because I miss being able to do the things I used to love—dancing, climbing, scrambling, hiking (basically, anything involving going up mountains), kayaking—but what people often fail to understand is that even if I didn’t have my wheelchair, or the crutches I sometimes use, I wouldn’t be able to do these things anymore anyway.
Nina Grant is a blogger and activist from London, UK, who writes about disability.