During a recent conversation, it dawned on me that so many people in wheelchairs are capable of walking/standing, but are afraid to because of what other people will say. There has to be a way to bring awareness to this and stop the fear of persecution.
There is this concept among the able-bodied that anyone in a wheelchair is paralyzed, which is incredibly narrow minded. But think about it… have you seen someone in a store using the electric scooters and then stand to get an item off the shelf. How does that make you feel? When you see someone in a handicapped spot (even with a placard) walk into the store, do you automatically think they’re faking or using a tag that doesn’t belong to them? Think hard, we’ve ALL done it at one point in our lives.
The truth is that people with invisible illness often need assistance, but not necessarily every day. That person you see walking in to the grocery store could very well have been completely unable to walk the day before. That person using the scooter, most likely is having a bad pain day and wouldn’t be able to get their errands done if it weren’t for the help. Often reaching for something off a high shelf can be just as painful as walking around the store, so standing to get it is the better option.
Yet… we shy away from it because of all the judgemental stares. We will park without our tag, just to keep people from being cruel. Bullies come in many forms.
Then there are those of us that use a wheelchair on a regular basis, but are NOT paralyzed. We can stand if needed and sometimes sitting all day is just as bad for us as walking. We may have to get up just to stretch, but that’s not what people see, so we confine ourselves to the chair and pray for comfort. That fear is brutal!
Personally, I use a wheelchair any time I would have to stand our walk for a long time. If I don’t, my knees and hips give out and I’m considered a fall risk. So I have to use the scooters at stores, especially if I need several items. Otherwise my pain will be too much, even with my cane. My manual chair is not as helpful in stores, so the scooter is the best option. I’ve started using my cane to get in to the store and keep it with me on the scooter. This is no easy task! But it is a visual for people that I really do need mobility assistance.
What NEEDS to happen is an awakening of understanding to the struggle of people with invisible illness! We need to dispel the myth that everyone in a wheelchair is paralyzed. Yes, some are… but many are not! To judge someone without knowing their circumstances is plain and simple bullying. It is ableism and needs to stop (even among those with disabilities). It is not our place to judge.
(On a side-note. If you’re not disabled and take up a handicapped spot just because the lot is too full, or you just don’t feel like walking that far… stop it! Seriously, leave those spots for people with disabilities. Even if you’re just running in somewhere “really quick”, that’s not a good excuse. You never know when someone with a real need will drive up.)
So, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Stand to get what you need, stand to stretch, and most importantly stand up for your right to stand.