“Get out the way of that wheelchair.”

Funnily enough, I am not a wheelchair. I am a 27-year-old woman that has an interest in politics and current affairs. I write, I cook (and eat); I enjoy travel and doing nice things for people. I recently got engaged. I work for a charity. Currently I wear a lot of headscarves (not all at the same time) and I’m obsessed with taking tomato plant cuttings. But yesterday in Glasgow, I was reduced to a metal contraption with wheels that gets in the way. I’ve no doubt that the lady uttering the words “Get out the way of that wheelchair” had no intention of making me feel that way, she was just hoping to avoid a collision between myself and her son. Yet she taught her son that I am a wheelchair. She taught him to ignore the person patiently waiting for room to pass and to see only a chair on wheels.
I suppose it’s similar to telling someone to watch out for a pram, but then all babies use prams at some point. Not all adults use wheelchairs. It’s similar to telling someone to get out of the way of a bike, only the person on the bike has chosen that as his or her mode of transport. I didn’t choose Neuromyelitis Optica, and, although I am able to walk short distances, I didn’t choose to need a wheelchair when going any further than the local shop. I am a person and all I ask is that you acknowledge me, or any wheelchair user, before you acknowledge their wheels.
This wasn’t the only issue I encountered in Glasgow yesterday – my first big trip out with the wheelchair. Even the lowered kerbs at pedestrian crossings are too high for a wheelchair, unless you fancy being pushed and bounced over the thing at high speed. Okay, it was fun the first time, I even made racing car noises, but it quickly began to lose its novelty as it became increasingly painful throughout the day. Thankfully, I was accompanied by my partner and friend who were very patient in helping me up the kerbs, either by tipping me backward (terrifying) or reversing me over the kerb and hoping traffic would wait. But what if I were alone? Am I expected to ask a stranger for help at every crossing? Or plan my day avoiding crossing roads?
Many of the main high-street stores in Glasgow and around the country are great for wheelchair access, but a desperation to cram as many items and clothing rails in as possible leaves aisles narrow and turning circles very small indeed. The smaller retailers were shocking for access, most didn’t even have ramps but steps into the shop instead – do smaller retailers have funding for help with this kind of thing? I’m lucky that I can get out of the chair and take a couple of steps into the shop, but others can’t. Oh, and the looks you get when you miraculously stand up from a wheelchair! Because everyone in a wheelchair has absolutely no use of their legs whatsoever, of course.
Later in the day, I found myself in a rather unfavourable position – between Gregg’s the bakers and a group of tourists. As though Gregg’s was about to close or sell out of Steak Bakes immediately (the horror!) the tourists charged towards the entrance, leaving me swamped in Primark shopping bags with no clear exit. And they just stood there. I’ve never felt more suffocated than when surrounded by the crotches of 30 hungry tourists. Eventually, after several attempts of exclaiming my presence loudly I managed to negotiate a way out of there.
It was a hard day. I was so relieved to finally have a change of scenery as much of my time has been spent indoors or very locally since leaving hospital. However, I don’t think I’ll be going back to Glasgow anytime soon.
I would like to say that other than all of the above, I encountered some incredibly helpful people yesterday too. Doors were held open in a non-patronising fashion, keys to accessible toilets were offered kindly and made available promptly, and most importantly, some people acknowledged me, Helen, going about my business with my partner and friend. I wasn’t just “that wheelchair”. Because I’m not, and neither is anyone else who uses a wheelchair full-time, some of the time, or just occasionally.

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13 responses to ““Get out the way of that wheelchair.”

  1. Fantastic piece hun!
    I too am like to yourself needing aid to get around.
    I have MS, I use a walking stick, sometimes crutches, for distances I should imagine the same as yourself I use my wheelchair and sometimes I even use my own scooter!
    I am Victoria! I and not and my of the aids I use to get me from A to B!

    Keep up the good work! Stay positive! 😉

    • Thank you!
      I think we need a huge shift in the way people think and speak about people with disabilities and the aids we use to get around. I’ve only been dealing with this for a short time, I just hope it doesn’t make me too thick skinned!

      Thanks for reading, keep walking, wheeling and scooting 🙂

  2. I often accidentally knock against people with my wheelchair or they run into me and they always apologise profusely. I don’t care. I can’t feel pain through the metal frame of my wheelchair.
    One amusing thing I often find myself doing is trying to squeeze past people by squishing my body against one side to you know make more room? Doesn’t work for some reason…

  3. I to use a wheelchair and like yourself I can walk short distances, People talk to everyone else around me and ask them how I am doing without asking me as all they see is the wheelchair, I do get annoyed but I now speak up and say “I am here you can ask me.” I don’t like Glasgow like you said some shops are inaccessible people can be rude and the so called lower curbs leave me in excruciating pain. I just want people to talk to me not just to the people there. There are, like you said really nice, but there are others that can help to much I am very independent and like to do things myself and people just come along and help without asking if I need any lol. That is the price wheelchair users pay for being in one.

    • Michelle, my mum works with a young girl (at a primary school) who uses a motorised wheelchair full-time and so often people speak to my mum, not her. Thankfully she’s always been loud and proud and will say “It’s my body that doesn’t work, not my brain!”

  4. I have experienced everything you say in this post! I am a part-time wheelchair user due to my MS. I try to look on the wheelchair as a help to get to places that I couldn’t otherwise, but it certainly has its limitations.

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