Pimp My Ride.

When I meet new people many of them feel very awkward about my wheelchair; they are so afraid to mention or even look at it that it quickly becomes the elephant in the room. It falls to me to break the ice, which I have several ways of doing. Sometimes I’ll use a quick one-liner to put people at ease, but a surprisingly effective technique is to positively draw attention to the wheelchair.

My first wheelchair had a dull grey metal frame, around a dull black seat, and a dull cream cushion. I quickly grew tired of people being so afraid of an awkward social situation that they would go to great lengths to avoid me, although it could always have been my personality of course, so I bought some high-visibility reflective stickers of yellow smiley faces and placed three down each side panel of the wheelchair. Where-ever I went they would make people smile, and in knowing that I was not afraid to play the fool, most developed a more welcoming attitude towards me. Children adored them and would reach out to touch them, before being whisked away by mortified parents.

When I upgraded to my second wheelchair, I purchased one with a red, sparkly frame, which in itself did a lot to dispel the awkwardness when meeting new people. I have applied the same principle to my newest wheelchair, which also has a bright red frame, and is a talking point for many.

Christmas is another fantastic opportunity to assure people that I am an ordinary human being with a sense of humour. Every year I buy some cheap tinsel which I wrap around the frame, and every year I receive lots of positive feedback. Complete strangers even call out complements across the street. However, this pales into comparison with what my school peer and Paralympian, Coral Batey, once did with her wheelchair. She somehow managed to wrap battery powered fairy lights around her wheels, and it was quite a sight to watch her glide down the corridor with twinkling lights beneath her; it certainly had the desired effect. The BBC have even reported on a group of wheelchair users who modified their wheelchairs for Halloween, including one child who wanted his wheelchair to become a Tie Fighter for the day: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/disability-37774000.

It may seem a simple and even immature thing to do, but adding something special to a wheelchair raises people’s interest and they see you in a positive light. Changing society’s stereotypes and taboos does not happen without effort on behalf of the minority, taking time and persistence instead. That is, of course, the very purpose of this blog because people’s opinions and actions towards disability will not change if others continue to live with misconceptions influencing their actions. Therefore a little silliness could be the driving factor behind immense social change.

My Superpower.

Why Harry Potter insists on using a special cloak to become invisible is beyond me, because what he really needs is a wheelchair. I have had such an enormous number of incidents involving people stepping over my legs or walking straight into the wheelchair, as well as having heavy doors shut in my face, that invisibility can be the only logical explanation.

One common occurrence for wheelchair users is something we like to call “flat-head syndrome”. This occurs when a wheelchair user is accompanied by an adult whose legs work and people address questions about the wheelchair user to the functioning human, including “What is wrong with her?” and “Does she want a drink?”. I like to surprise people by answering the question with some unintelligible medical jargon and leave them dumb-founded while I wander away to do something more intelligent. This event isn’t even limited to when I am with a carer, and has been seen by friends, family, and my other half. In particular, my other half receives looks of wonder that he is such a hero for dating a disabled woman. The reality is that I’m blonde and I have big boobs, and actually, we’re quite fond of each other.

Another frequent event happens when people are using their phones, usually while looking down at the screen held out slightly in front of them, but also when using phones for their original purpose. People walk straight into the wheelchair, and then blame me, even when I am travelling down a narrow pavement with the road on one side of me, and steps into shops on the other. Some people become so absorbed by the enchanting box of flickering light that they forget the world around them, and let heavy doors go in front of me, leaving me trying to open them from an angle no door is designed to be opened from.

I do realise that some of you may be reading this on your phones, and of course you’ve probably become completely entranced by the elegant writing style and intricate anecdotes I use.  I take no issue with you doing this, it is quite the complement after all, but please try to take in your surroundings while you walk. The most ironic thing I have ever observed involved someone having to use a wheelchair temporarily after suffering an injury from walking into a wheelchair while using his phone, who then got annoyed at people walking into his wheelchair while using their phones.

If you are out and about and you see someone in a wheelchair, please don’t turn the other way to ignore the blemish on society, or stare gormlessly in their direction which frankly looks terrible and feels incredibly uncomfortable. Instead give them a quick smile, stop to help them if they need it, and then continue on with your day safe in the knowledge that today you made a difference, and you made someone genuinely happy.