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.
Sorry for not posting in a while but it’s been a hectic couple of weeks. VARSITY’s Sports Editor asked me to write an article on Archery and Disability for the next issue. Since it might interest you, below is a copy of the article I sent to the editor today. Hope you enjoy.
The fact of being in a wheelchair, often, makes a lot of popular, ‘traditional’ largely inaccessible to wheelchair-users without significant changes to the infrastructure of the sport. While a wheelchair limits the sports you can get involved in, archery is one of those sports where the wheelchair is largely of no consequence to your performance. The very nature of the sport renders one’s wheelchair – often a focal point for divisiveness – virtually irrelevant.
I’ve mentioned a few times that one’s disability is more than just the physical and/or mental limitations that it causes; it becomes part of who you are as a person. What I don’t feel I’ve explained adequately, though, is the degree to which a specific wheelchair becomes part of your body.
Imagine, for a moment, that you begin wearing a new pair of shoes and they haven’t been broken in yet. Feels weird, right? Getting a new wheelchair is much the same thing. Personally, I’ve only ever used manual chairs so I don’t know much about electric wheelchairs but, I imagine, the experience is largely similar.
Just like the new pair of shoes, you would ‘break in a new wheelchair’ by learning not only the chair’s idiosyncrasies, but also how your body plays into them. Ultimately, you are less of a ‘passenger’ in the chair and more of a partner with it.
It’s this partnership that a wheelchair-user develops with their chair that so often others don’t understand. Yes, chairs look similar and function in similar ways but be in one for any length of time and you’ll notice that it has its own, distinct personality. It is this unique ‘personality’ that makes moving into a chair that isn’t yours not only obvious but often unpleasant and potentially risky.
I think it’s time I tell you why I’m in a wheelchair even though, technically, I have the ability to ambulate. While I might be able to physically create the motions which one requires for walking, I have less than zero balance on my feet. To illustrate how little balance I have something I often say to people, and I’m not exaggerating, “A brick would float before I’d be able to stand unaided.”
So, why the wheelchair?
In a word: simplicity. Yes, I can ‘walk’ in a walker but the majority of them are high-risk to use as, although the help with walking, they often do very little in the way of supporting you. Combine the lack of support with non-existent balance and the result is not a pretty one.
Yes, I can ‘walk’ in a walker but the majority of them are high-risk to use as, although the help with walking, they often do very little in the way of supporting you. Combine the lack of support with non-existent balance and the result is not a pretty one.
As I’ve said in a few other posts on this blog, I was born with a physical disability and have spent my entire life having to use some kind of mobility device. At no point in my life have I been entirely ‘normal’ and experienced life from a ‘non-disabled perspective’. Although I’ve peppered details of what my life is like, I don’t think, I have sat down and given you a comprehensive, all-in-one explanation of how I view this topic. I plan on rectifying that now. To make this a little easier to write and, no doubt easier to read, I’m going to structure it around 3 questions.