It’s literally a chair with wheels. ♿ Such an obvious, useful invention. I’m fascinated by how such a mundane tool: a chair with 4 wheels attached, can carry the level of emotion & stigma a wheelchair does.
International Wheelchair Day wasn’t on my radar till posts started popping up here last week. I’m not big on awareness days but the cumulative effect of different people posting about their relationship with their wheelchair was powerful.
I’m always intending to post something about wheelchairs & stigma, but it’s a slippery subject. Really it’s disability we’re messed up about, but the wheelchair is literally the universal symbol of disability, so it carries it all – fear, suspicion, disgust. ♿
Having looked it up, International Wheelchair Day seems to be an attempt to combat that – to point out what should be blatantly obvious:
If you can’t walk / have trouble walking, a wheelchair can give you freedom.
And perhaps, reading this, you think yes! It is that simple! Screw it, if you need to use one use it!
Perhaps it all sounds a bit theoretical.
But day after day, people with disabilities and chronic conditions choose not to… they miss work, weddings, family events rather than use one. Because using a wheelchair is identity defining and they know it – sit in a chair with wheels and you are silently declaring yourself “in a wheelchair”. You are passing into a new identity, from which you will not be allowed to return. Walk again, ever, and you’ll be congratulated on your miraculous recovery for years*, or looked at suspiciously, which honestly is even worse.
And they are encouraged in this, by family, friends, and by doctors. Who really should know better, but really, really do not.
They’ll be congratulated for “not giving up”. “Of course what I admire about Jan is she’s never let herself be disabled.” As Jan sits in her wheel-less chair, definitely not disabled, missing yet another evening out.
Because actually, the wheelchair is a magic curse, and “once you get into it you’ll never get out again”. Because life with a wheelchair is all grapes & honey and ease – the lazy choice…