Life as a wheelchair user – societal preconceptions

Being a wheelchair user with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, means that I have a very visible disability. Consequently, I have encountered societies many preconceptions over the years, based solely on the fact that I have a disability. Joe public isn’t shy about voicing such assumptions, regardless of how stupid they are, as they believe them to be true.

I can’t even reassure you that the following misjudgements are those of children who through no fault of their own know no better. In fact I have found that the most narrow minded and ignorant ideas and interrogatives come from much older individuals.

Here are some examples of the preconceptions I have personally experienced throughout my 28 years.

– Because I am physically disabled I must therefore be mentally disabled too.
– I didn’t or couldn’t have attended mainstream school.
– I need to be spoken to very slowly and very loudly otherwise I simply won’t be able to understand basic verbal communication. Furthermore, some surmise I cannot speak at all.
– Because I have muscular dystrophy that must mean I cannot achieve the same milestones as everyone else such as learning to drive.
– I cannot work because I am physically disabled.
– Most assume that since I can’t walk now I never could. They’re often shocked to learn I could walk until I reached the age of ten.
– I am completely non-ambulant, yet frustratingly most in society seem to assume that despite the fact I use a powered wheelchair, I must be able to walk. This becomes most apparent when attempting to access public transport or when travelling. I may be faced with a few steps or a short walk to my seat on the plane or I might be asked to transfer out of my chair. When I tell them I can’t weight bear at all, I am met with an expression of complete confusion. ‘You can’t walk? Not at all? It’s really not far’. Yes still, even for you I’m afraid I cannot make an exception and drag myself across the floor since it’s not that far.
– As much as I laughed along to the Little Britain sketch of Lou and Andy, I feel it may be at least somewhat responsible for the common assumption that I along with all other wheelchair users conveniently jump up & run around maniacally when no one’s watching. Although admittedly I would if I could, sadly this is not the case.

– When you find accessible accommodation isn’t accessible at all – I’m still surprised by the lack of thought that goes into disabled accommodation. I once found myself unable to even make it through the door of my apparently accessible hotel room because the doors were so narrow. The manager’s response: ‘Oh, can’t you squeeze through?’
– I am rather petite, child sized in fact. However, I like to think I look a little older than twelve. But, at the age of 28, I am still regularly presented with the children’s menu.
– on multiple occasions I’ve been approached by strangers who tell me that I sinned in former life and my disability is my penance.
– Similarly, I must not believe in God and for this I am being punished.
– I’ve been told I need fixing.
– It doesn’t occur to people that I have the same needs and desires as everyone else.
– A misguided generalisation is that disabled people like myself are asexual and do not have romantic relationships.
– Being wheelchair bound, I clearly can’t have and don’t want children.
– Friends are too often mistaken for carers.
– I must know lots of others with my condition. Of course, makes total sense.
– I’m in a wheelchair therefore I must be taking lots of medication and cannot drink alcohol.
– I must be contagious.
– I don’t go out or have fun like my peers.
– I must be a loner or even a recluse.

Some of these are specific to my experiences whilst others I’m aware are unfortunately familiar to many with a disability.

It’s all too easy to express anger and frustration when presented with such ignorance. Believe me I have had exercise my patience in many instances. But I feel strongly that knowledge is power and so the best response to preconceptions about disability is to educate and raise awareness.

This is my first piece for Limitless Travel.

1 thought on “Life as a wheelchair user – societal preconceptions”

  1. Another really well written piece Carrie – this must be shared – LOVE it.
    I’m so sorry you have had to face such abominable ignorance and nastiness. Let’s hope those jerks become educated and gain some kind of empathy as writing and discussions like this become more common place.

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