It is remarkable how quickly I became possessive of my wheelchair, especially considering that my brain has still not made peace that some of my original limbs are missing. The wheelchair has become an extension of myself and I get irrationally irritated when people touch it.
My friends and family usually ask me to move if I’m in the way or let me know that they are going to touch my wheelchair, which is ironic, because they are the ones less prone to annoy me. When it comes to strangers, however, I am always caught between rage and disbelief that they have no qualms about pushing me out of their way like an errant trolley in a supermarket. Not to mention the number of times I find able-bodied strangers taking their time in the disabled toilet, which they prefer because it happens to be more “spacious” … how much space does one need to go to the loo?
Speaking of toilets, a funny thing happened when I visited the disabled cubicle in Heathrow airport before my flight to South Africa. After finishing up I couldn’t find the button to flush the loo. I looked all around and there, right next to the toilet, was a Big Red Button. Now, everyone knows you should push a Big Red Button when you see it, right? So I pushed it, Sugababes-style (or Salt-n-Pepa-style, depending on your age). It wasn’t the flush.
An ear-splitting siren screamed my error for all of Heathrow to hear and, as I later found out, a bright red light began flashing above the cubicle’s door. Most disabled toilets I come across have an emergency button in case one gets stuck, and I realised that must be what I’d pushed. As I imagined hordes of burly men in uniforms dashing to my rescue from every corner of the airport (I wish), my search for the flush grew ever more urgent, so that I could dispose of what I’d left in the toilet bowl before any of them could see. Eventually I found it, and the solitary airport cleaner who strolled sedately over to the cubicle long after I had finished, reset the emergency button to stop the alarm that had been ringing for a solid five minutes.
The rest of my voyage passed without incident and, thanks to all the medication I was taking at the time, I slept most of the way.
Although we have wheels, pushing a wheelchair-user out of your way is just as bad as pushing someone who stands on two feet. Hogging our toilets and parking spaces (that’s a different story for a different blog post) is just as bad as someone else parking in your garage or blocking your driveway. I know it sucks that you can’t get that close to the entrance when it’s raining, but try assembling a wheelchair in that rain. So the moral of the story: Be as courteous and respectful to disabled people as you would want us to be towards you, and we’ll do the same.