15 Crazy Challenging Things For Wheelchair Users That Are No Big Deal For You
Or God-forbid, leather pants...
We may all put our pants on one leg at a time, but I assure you that my pants method has thrown me on the floor many more times than yours! I dare you to find your best pair of skinny jeans, sit in a chair and try to get them on without moving your legs at all. After years of using a wheelchair, it’s possible to get your jean-wiggle action down pretty well, but put a tight bathroom in the mix and you’ve got yourself a real challenge.
2. “Fake-out” Handicapped Bathrooms
Speaking of tight bathrooms, the inventor of the faux handicapped bathroom is pretty twisted. Many businesses like to slap a wheelchair symbol on a bathroom that is ever so slightly bigger than the rest in an effort to feign compliance, but here’s the thing - if my wheels can’t actually fit through the entrance, I consider that a problem! I prefer not to have to do wheelchair gymnastics when trying to go to the bathroom, no matter how fun it is to have to feel up a toilet seat.
3. Reaching High Shelves in the Grocery Store
Okay, any high shelf counts in this one, but the grocery store adds an extra challenge if you want to exert your independence without asking a stranger to help you mull over your pantry options. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve asked for help plenty of times, but the truth is that sometimes it’s liberating to procure your own chips and guacamole. So if I have to go on the hunt for a large sausage or baguette to secretly knock down a bag of cheese, all I can say is, you gotta do what you gotta do.
4. Random Spasms
Oh did I super violently kick your shin under the table? Totally not my fault! (Oh yeah, we can actually say that.) This doesn’t happen to me as much anymore, but it’s quite common for wheelchair users to have wild spasms that can interfere with a variety of daily activities. There’s nothing like spilling an entire cocktail on yourself in a bar or pitching forward into a random passerby because your muscles unexpectedly want to party.
There is the obvious frustration of people using the handicapped parking space as their own personal VIP parking (usually by borrowing grandma’s blue placard), but another common issue is people parking way too close to your car. You see, many wheelchair users have ramps that come out of their car (my BraunAbility Chevy Traverse has quite a nice one!) and I prefer to be able to quickly get back into my car after shopping in the middle of winter, instead of having to boldly ask a stranger to back my car out of the spot and apprehensively hand over my keys.
I don’t think anyone is a huge fan of torrential rain or blizzards (unless you have a week’s worth of snacks, a binge-worthy show, and nowhere to go), but wheelers have an even higher level of trepidation than most when it comes to severe weather. I will be the first to say that I have gone into many an important meeting looking like a wet dog because I can’t push a wheelchair and hold an umbrella at the same time. Heavy snow makes you use every ounce of your energy to get your wheels to move forward even an inch, but heavy wind will make you pray that your wheels will STOP moving before you’re blown into the middle of traffic!
7. Knowing When You’re in Pain
This definitely doesn’t apply to all wheelchair users since each person has a different level of sensation, but many of us don’t have the ability to feel pain in our legs. One second you’re fine and the next you look down and see your leg bleeding and think, “What the heck just happened??” I have uncovered badly sprained ankles, deep wounds, and even a broken hip days to months after the injury actually happened. Turns out that pain can sometimes be something to be grateful for!
Think about the last time you went to a gym - what is one of the main things that stands out? Rows and rows of treadmills - not to mention ellipticals, stair-masters and the many other leggy ways that you can get your heart pumping. For a while, I thought that I would be chained to only lifting weights during my workouts, but I eventually realized that I could get a great cardio workout with a little creativity. This has led me to do things like teaching myself to swim with just my arms, crawling circles around my apartment yoga room for over an hour, and scoping out the biggest hills where I live and pushing to the top. (Trust me, the ride down makes this totally worth it!)
9. Showering (Anywhere other than your home shower!)
Let’s say you want to crash at a friend’s house. Even if you had the foresight to bring a shower chair with you, chances are that the bathroom would be too narrow to get into! You can of course decide to stay at a hotel, but that can get even more complicated. The roll-in showers always end up flooding the entire bathroom, while the built-in tub chairs are usually placed so far back that you can’t even reach the shower controls - let alone be under the flow of water. Sometimes it seems easier to just secretly wash yourself off in the pool.
This one might sound silly, but it is a little intimidating to know whether to bare your soul and life story on an online dating website or keep it coy with your disability card to your chest. I have done it both ways, and it has gotten weird and offensive results either way, so maybe this says more about online dating than the wheelchair? All I know is, it’s super creepy to have your first message from a guy say, “Are you still able to have sex?”
You may have noticed that plane aisles are way too narrow for wheelchairs to ride down, so in order to get seated passengers like me on, airlines strap us to a “straight-jacket-like” aisle chair and push us toward our seat. We are the first to get on and the last to get off. Normally I would simply be grateful to be able to fly, but it gets a little frustrating when fellow passengers (and sometimes flight attendants) yell at me to stand up so they can get by me or clean my seat. Luckily, I get the pleasure of seeing their reaction when I tell them that they just yelled at someone who is paralyzed.
12. Attention (Negative and Positive!)
Although people certainly do make an attempt to be polite, the number of stares and awkward comments I get on a daily basis (some of them admittedly well-intentioned) can be a little overwhelming at times. I didn’t realize that I had become numb to it until a new friend asked me, “Why has everyone been staring at us?” You have two ways to play this: either pretend that you are a celebrity receiving stares from adoring fans or sink into a pool of insecurity after your fifth insensitive comment of the day. I prefer the former!
13. Straightening Your Legs
Several years after my car accident I was met with a very unpleasant surprise, that due to a lack of sufficient stretching, I could no longer completely straighten my legs. Unless you stretch religiously after becoming paralyzed, your body will tighten up like stone. One of the biggest lessons I learned from my injury is that life is all about taking self-responsibility: you can’t control the waves that are beating you down, but you sure as hell can be proactive and learn to surf.
14. Beach Trips
Speaking of the ocean, it can take quite a bit of energy to actually get to one in a wheelchair! While I love dreaming about romantic walks on the beach as much as the next girl, my version looks a bit different. While a “normal” couple leisurely strolls onto the sand and dips their toes in the water in the moonlight, my date and I have to scour the beachside for an accessible entrance (AKA beach mat), see if a beach wheelchair is available and use some grit and sweat to chug through the sand to the water. Maybe not what you read in the fairytale, but I can assure you that it makes much better stories.
15. Realizing That You Are Worthy
For years I thought it was just me - that I was the only one who felt completely unworthy to fit into society because I was so different. It took me many years, but I eventually realized that lots of people feel that way, NOT just people with disabilities. At some point, we all fear that we aren’t worthy enough, or attractive enough, or smart enough or funny enough to fit in, but I promise you, it is your own belief that you have something to offer this world that will end up altering the perception that others have of you.
So the moral of the story is, whether you use a wheelchair or not, own your life and find creative ways to deal with the challenges that come your way. Absolutely incredible things can happen when you don’t take no for an answer and passionately chase bold adventures no matter how hard the journey gets.
This was a list of my hard stuff, but I would bet that you have a lengthy list of your own. So, let’s keep sharing this stuff with each other so that we know that we’re not alone.
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