Reactions to the wheelchair

Posted by Karen - July 23rd, 2017

This has been a spring and summer of so, so many changes for my daughter Miranda. One of those things is that due to Miranda’s ongoing left thigh and knee flare-up, her walking has slowed quite significantly, and she has to use a cane. This means she can walk only short distances without tiring. As such, we have started using her manual wheelchair for outings requiring more foot travel.

I am the person who usually pushes Miranda’s chair, and I’ve noticed some interesting things while acting in that capacity (NOTE – we are moving toward getting a motorized chair, but that’s a long, drawn-out process and we don’t have one yet). Here are some things about the public’s response to seeing that there is a girl using a wheelchair in their midst…

First, people often seem to be DEATHLY TERRIFIED of accidentally bumping into the wheelchair. I pushed my kids in strollers when they were young, and I didn’t note that reaction then, so I don’t think this is just common courtesy to someone using a wheeled device… What I see is that when people realize there is a wheelchair coming toward them, they move forcefully and quickly out of the way, and steer as absolutely clear of us as they can. Now, why is this exactly? I think the innocent explanation is that they want to be as helpful as possible to someone who is obviously dealing with challenges. This is probably what most people are thinking. However, I can’t shake the thought that some folks are doing this out of fear – fear that if they don’t get out of our way, they might have to – *GASP* – actually have to talk to and interact with someone who has a disability! Maybe what that girl has is catching! Or maybe that girl will do something uncomfortable and weird, which will be freaky! PANIC! Geez, I very sincerely hope that the people in this category are in a small minority.

Related to the first point is that people often talk over Miranda’s head when she’s in her wheelchair. For instance, say we go up to a counter in a store, and maybe the store is a bit noisy, and then Miranda asks a clerk something (about the price of an item, or whatever). If the clerk can’t properly hear Miranda, they will often look up at me quickly, with a startled and slightly troubled look on their face, and ask, “What did she say?” I suspect that if Miranda wasn’t in the wheelchair, and was just your average 12-year-old kid, the clerk would ask her directly to her face to repeat what she just said – but nope, that often doesn’t happen here. My reaction depends on my mood, so sometimes I just repeat Miranda’s question in a louder voice, while other times I will turn to Miranda and say, “The store person didn’t hear you. Could you say your question louder?” (I then look away, usually at my phone, so as to pointedly illustrate to the person that they MUST deal with my kid, ha ha; sometimes I am just snarky.)

Sometimes though, people go the other way… Namely, they make an effort to show how ABSOLUTELY SUPPORTIVE they are to this girl in a wheelchair! An example of this happened to us last weekend. We were in a candy store in a shopping mall, and we were in line for Miranda to pay for the candy she wanted to buy. We got to the front of the line, and the clerk, a middle-aged woman, said in an artificially bright and cheery voice, “Well hello there! Are you wanting to buy something?” Miranda said yes, and showed her choices, and the woman then turned slightly to me, and said, “Is she your daughter? Well, she is so completely gorgeous and beautiful!!” (Now, picture Miranda here in her blue jean shorts and everyday, average T-shirt; hair kind of messed up – she looked like your basic, average kid.) It’s like this woman was trying to say, SEE, I don’t even NOTICE your disability! Which, of course, obviously couldn’t be further from the truth…

Now to be fair, I think most people don’t fit even in any of the above categories. I think most people these days do try to treat people in wheelchairs the way they themselves would want to be treated. But, there are enough of the other type to make it clearly noticeable.

Something else for us to get used to, I guess.

One of those times when Owen pushed the wheelchair instead of me. I'm kind of entertained by how bored he looked, ha ha.

One of those times when Owen pushed the wheelchair instead of me. I’m kind of entertained by how bored he looked, ha ha.

PS – On August 6, 2017, we will be doing the Walk for FOP in Calgary, Alberta. All proceeds to benefit the Canadian FOP Network, a registered charity in Canada. If you’d like to support our efforts, please go to and click on “General Donations”. Or, let me know and I’ll tell you how to send a cheque. Thanks!


One Response to “Reactions to the wheelchair”

  1. Great post. A good timing for me to read it when I have just started my blog a couple of days before. Keep sharing the tips :)
    Store Wheelchair
    Keep Posting:)

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