I don’t know what kind of treatment other people in wheelchairs out there get, but I can tell you a little bit of how things are for me.
When I go out in public, it’s like a circus act. Everyone wants to look at me, because I’m different. I get that. But there are some things that are just interesting and unique to me.
It was before a really big event in April, and I had been going out to promote my public speaking to some school officials. So, I went out to dinner with a friend who will be there at the event. He and his wife came and picked me up and we went to the restaurant in the van. While my dinner companions were very cordial and open with speaking to me, and there were other people in the restaurant who were not afraid to speak and converse with me, the hostess did not speak to me or greet me. Some people are very uncomfortable speaking with someone “different” like me. At this particular dinner, I made it a point to openly introduce myself to the waiter and converse with him to save us both a lot of embarrassment. Maybe they think I can’t speak and that’s why they don’t try to speak to me. A lot of times waitresses won’t talk to me. They will ask the other people at the table what I want to order.
Sometimes people are apprehensive around me because they are afraid they are going to offend me, as a remedy for this, they don’t say anything. They think that I will be offended because they look at me, so they avoid eye contact with me at all costs. That is much more awkward than having someone say something that is possibly offensive. Imagine if you lived your whole life avoiding offending anyone. I would prefer to be treated like I am “normal”. I shouldn’t have to make such a huge effort to garner equal communication that a walking person would have. Also, you could literally ask me any question and I would not be offended. In fact, I encourage it. I wait eagerly for possibly offensive questions. They are my favorites.
Everywhere I go, nobody is expecting a guy in a wheelchair to show up. Even though everyone knows what a wheelchair is, it’s a huge shocker when it shows up in everyday life. There must be thousands of wheelchair bound people in the United States, yet we rarely see them. Where are they hiding?
My family was on a trip from Texas to Memphis. The car broke down and we had to call a tow truck. The tow truck driver said, “OK, hop into the truck and I’ll hook the van up to the back.” My dad let him know that we couldn’t do that because I was in a wheelchair and couldn’t just “hop” in the back. The guy towed the van with us inside of it. There were some strange looks as we drove very very slowly through town while being towed.
One of my favorite types of people I encounter in public are the “congratulatory” people, not because they are necessarily right in their approach, but because their ideas about my life in a wheelchair are a little weird. The congratulatory stranger will greet me with a very outgoing demeanor and tell me that I’m “the man” or “awesome” and they are “proud of me” just for existing as I do. I guess that it’s akin to when someone points out that a picture of a girl with a facial deformity is beautiful. I think people do this because they feel that they are offering something that nobody else in the girl’s life is telling her… she’s beautiful. It’s probably just the opposite. So many people are probably constantly telling her those words that she realizes it’s because of the facial deformity. I’m not saying that someone with a face problem can’t be beautiful, I am saying that “normal” beautiful people don’t get the same treatment. The word I’m looking for here that best describes this behavior of congratulating me for living life in a wheelchair is patronizing. I understand that the person means well, it just always puts me in a weird position.
There are also touchy-feely people that are not afraid to give me hugs and kisses like I’m a pet or a little child. I don’t mind this behavior, especially in the case of pretty women. Come to think of it, men don’t really do it so much, so I shouldn’t complain. And forget I mentioned it at all. If you’re a beautiful woman who wants to come up and give me a little kiss, that’s fine. You can sit on my lap too if you like
Image from http://ifunny.co/fun/pXgXjnqK2