With the Paralympics having come to an end, many of us have seen and experienced amazing sporting feats over the last few weeks, and to some extent, disability has hopefully been ‘normalised’ for lots of us. There is still a ‘fear factor’ and a taboo that seems to surround disability, though, and this is both worrying and unnecessary. As a wheelchair user myself, I’d like to list the three things that everyone should know about wheelchairs.
1. They’re really nothing to be scared of.
Firstly, and probably most importantly, we need to stop being so frightened of disability as a society; it’s really nothing to be scared of, or anxious about! In the UK especially, we seem to be so concerned about doing and saying the right thing, and terrified of being patronising or offensive, that we end up not communicating with those with disabilities, especially wheelchair users, as we are scared of messing it up! Not only is that super sad, it amplifies the ‘fear factor’ I mentioned previously, instead of taking it away. In order to have a fully accessible and inclusive society, we must stop being so worrisome around disability.
2. In fact, they can be fun and fashionable (and sexy!)
It took me a long time to realise that I could be a wheelchair user and also be attractive, but it’s true – there’s nothing to stop me being disabled and sexy – the two are not mutually exclusive!
Realising this changed the way I viewed my disability and my wheelchair, and I hope others have this realisation too. You can accessorise your, or your partner’s, wheelchair, too! Think paints, glitter, sequins, backrest designs – it’s all possible! If it makes you ‘stand out from the crowd’ (pun intended) and feel comfortable about your identity, the chair and the way everything goes together, then it’s more than worth it!
3. #WheelchairPerks do exist!
In fact, you shouldn’t be afraid to communicate with a disabled person at all, as a friendship with one of us can bring some really cool opportunities! Just last week, I was given a free stay at a lovely hotel for agreeing to deliver an accessibility audit. I’ve got round Disneyland Paris in a day, been upgraded to Business Class on a flight to America and my friends and I can get half price cinema tickets – not too shabby for having to sit down!
In all seriousness, disability is not always as fun as theme parks and cheap films, but it’s also vital that we start seeing the light hearted side of our impairments as well as the tricky stuff we often encounter. It’s easy to be negative, and much more hard work to see the bright side (but it’s also much more rewarding to think positively).
If everyone knew these things about wheelchairs, the people who use them and disability in general, I think we would have a much more inclusive and accepting society, and one we could be proud of. Mentalities and perceptions are changing, but it’s up to us as disabled people to also encourage that change in a positive way. What do I mean by this? Well, if someone does chat to you and use incorrect terminology but with the best of intentions, correct them in a polite and kind manner, and don’t put them off speaking to a disabled person ever again by replying with rudeness! Respect is a two-way street, and I’m confident that we are getting there, slowly but surely!