I am proud to be an advisor and occasional contributor to CAPTIVATING!, an inclusive online magazine. I wrote this for the May, 2017 issue and is used with permission. The format here is a bit different.
A newbie to life on wheels, he had his world under control that afternoon. In a narrow hallway, he was approaching the exit when a man emerged from the nethermost region behind his chair, grabbed the handles, lifted the chair up, and spun him around. “That’s better,” as he went out the door. Great. How do I open the door?
Never again did my wheelchairs have handles that anyone can grab. They fold down nicely out of harm’s way. That’s not all I’ve learned over decades of rolling.
Let’s take a lighthearted look at personal boundaries, types of wheelchairs you encounter, wheelchair vs scooter, and how to bind someone to a wheelchair.
I cannot imagine that anyone reading CAPTIVATING! would ever do what the man did to me. So just sit back and smile as I share a few of my personal encounters in the Twilight Zone of wheeling.
- She approaches from the back. Did you know that a person using a wheelchair has absolutely no vision of what is behind them? She puts her hands over your eyes, and says, “Guess who.” I’m startled and my glasses are now smeared. It is the counterpart of asking a person who is blind, “Do you know who I am?” Have you ever said, “No, and I don’t care?”
- As he stands beside me, he rests his hand on the back of my chair. I am not a sofa. My wheelchair is a prosthetic body that substitutes for a back and legs that don’t work. And that ubiquitous little chair back is what is supporting my vertebrae and is keeping my balance.
- Three or four people are talking. They are standing up. “I’m way down here, y’all.” Can you please look down sometimes or sit down if possible? Thank you, kindly.
- We’ve all had this one. “And what would he like to drink?” Ask that, and my wife will reply, “How should I know? Why don’t you ask him?
Scooters, Wheelchairs, and Grandaddy Barndollar
Wheelchairs come is all shapes, sizes, and colors. There are push rims and electric motors, carbon fiber beauties and chrome clunkers, titanium and aluminum. I thought you’d like a brief look into Who’s Who.
- Meet Chrome Clunker, which is often heavy gauge aluminum painted black and might not actually be chrome anymore. This monster weighs in at 40-60 lbs. (19-27 kg). They are the darling of insurance companies and often make their appearance in medical type settings. My first chair weighed 65 lbs. Thumbs down on that.
- Full time users need the custom chairs. These are smaller. Much lighter! If you look closely you’ll notice the wheels are bicycle wheels and tires, and are cambered in about 4 degrees at the top. The very first one was made of bicycle parts. Every aspect of these beauties is custom, even the distance between the wheel rims and the frame. They are made of carbon fiber, titanium, or light weight aluminum alloy. I have titanium now, and my chair weighs 16 pounds. From 65 lbs to 16 lbs. Think of the difference this makes in my life. More importantly, in my wife’s life! It is less for her to lift and gives me energy that I can use to help around the house.
- Power chairs are just that. Electric motors. Heavy. They range from mail order to custom. The price can vary from a run down Fiat to a new BMW. And the pricey ones are not all that rare, I might add.
Scooters, or mobility scooters, depending on where you live, are the bane of wheelchair users. We often get lumped into the same category, but the difference is mind boggling. The keynote speaker at a Multiple Sclerosis seminar described the difference this way. “If you can walk, the scooter might be right for you. If you cannot walk, your life will be better with a wheelchair.”
How do you bind someone to a wheelchair?
My Grandaddy Barndollar, back in Polk Township, Indiana, says that the best way to make someone wheelchair bound is to use duct tape. He says rope is old fashioned.
We still read in the press about someone being “wheelchair bound.” “Confined to a wheelchair” is another of their favorites. When people hear and read this, the stereotype lives on. I was over at a local theme park a few days ago. I saw several others using wheelchairs, and not one had been tied up with duct tape. Nor rope. Nor string. We were eating pizza or indulging in a delicious cupcake exactly like everyone else. Maybe somewhere along the line, we broke free of the duct tape and are no longer bound or confined. Now, how do we convince the press?
Another bit of Grandaddy Barndollar’s wisdom is that the basic thing we need to know about life is that people are people. We are not our wheelchairs or canes or space age prosthetics, just nice people living life a bit differently. Enjoy your life to the fullest, however you choose to do it.
Mobility Awareness Month is observed in May and was started by the National Mobility Dealers Association (NMEDA) in 2001. I was pleased to see that the State of Florida has mentioned it on their website and now includes “wheelchairs, scooters, canes, and prosthetic devices.” Inclusion is growing.
As always, thank you for stopping by and spending your time with me. Time is often our most difficult thing to manage. Please know that your time here is noted and appreciated.
PD: Main picture is a collage of 3 photos. In the large photo on the left George is sitting on a bench in a park. He is wearing sunglasses and has his foot in the seat of his wheelchair. The 2nd photo shows George in a state-of-the-art power wheelchair. One leg is crossed over the other. He has blond hair and is wearing sunglasses, a striped shirt, jeans, and Converse shoes.