I came across an article recently written by Virali Modi on Slate.com outlining some of her experiences about being in a wheelchair. I know that I’ve explained why I’m in a wheelchair, how I think slightly differently as a result, and how it affects my daily living but what I don’t feel I’ve explained well enough is how my being in a wheelchair makes me feel different… in good ways and bad.
As with anything, the wheelchair has its ups and its downs. In my previous post, Just How Much Does the Wheelchair Affect my Daily Living?, I told you that the wheelchair is something I don’t consciously think about that often and that I often ‘see’ myself as standing until there is something that makes it obvious to me (like a bookshelf being too high). While all of that is true, I have become more aware of other little things that I realise behave slightly differently as a result of the chair since I published that article. Since I designed the blog to be a medium for me to express my opinions and experiences on life with a disability, I feel I should provide an update to the original article. So here goes…
1. I’m always seated
Although I’ve been disabled for my entire life, the wheelchair has only been part of my life for the past five or so years. Even when I wasn’t in a wheelchair, though, the nature of how I ‘walked’ was largely based on ‘hanging’ from my arms. In other words, I never truly stood. While I never stood properly (in the sense of weight-bearing through my feet and legs) I was still verticle.
Now some years down the line of being in a wheelchair, I still find myself using words like ‘walking’ or ‘standing’ when referring to what I’m doing. It’s just part of my vocabulary and I don’t notice myself using it until the person I’m talking to has a decidedly puzzled look on their face. Once the initial confusion subsides, however, they don’t seem to mind it too much.
On the rare occasion I am consciously aware of the fact that I’m sitting, it doesn’t seem to interest me much beyond a small chuckle to myself at the idea that I am always seated – even when moving from point A to point B. Well, that’s not entirely true. There are a few moments, albeit few and far between, that I find myself being particularly disturbed (for lack of a better word) at the fact I’m sitting all the time.
2. I have to watch what I wear
This is one of those “few and far between” moments I just mentioned. Yes, everyone has to watch what they wear because everyone has a different style and looks good in different clothes but it only dawned on me recently that no matter what I wear, no one will be able to truly see what I look like in it.
I recently had to attend a Board Meeting for work and because I was in the mood and the occasion made it feel vaguely appropriate, I decided to wear rather simple but nice-looking suit. It was only as I was walking out the door (there I go again!) that I realised no-one will truly see how this suit looks on me.
Even if it’s subconscious, people see the clothes others wear from both sides as it’s just part of the way we operate as bipeds – people can see the front and back of whatever someone is wearing. This is not the case with wheelchair-users. By definition, we are always seated and/or have a contraption that hides what we look like from behind for the most part. Although there is a small argument to be made by saying I have the ability to stand, I will never be able to feel myself standing for the simple reason that I (a) do not feel secure doing so, (b) cannot do so at all without significant assistance from mobility aids, and (c) my posture is severely impacted. In short, the chair and the nature of my disability will never let me (or anyone else for that matter) see what I look like in a particular outfit – be it a suit or jeans and a t-shirt – in any other context but seated. It’s actually quite a strange idea when you realise it.