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, thus demonstrating a vast lack of awareness.

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, 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’m now unable to walk, 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 at least a little.

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.’

No, I’m afraid I cannot walk AT ALL.

– 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 and 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. (Just what you want when you’re a 29 year-old woman!) However, I like to think I look a little older than twelve. But 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 a former life and my disability is my penance.

– Similarly, I have been asked if I believe in God. Replying that I do not, I was told that I am therefore being punished by God – my disability is an affliction! Erm, nope. In my case, it’s genetic.

– 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 a wheelchair-user, I clearly can’t have and don’t want children.

– Friends are too often mistaken for carers.

– I must know many other similarly disabled people. Of course, makes total sense.

– I’m in a wheelchair therefore I must be taking LOTS of medication and cannot drink alcohol.

– I have a disability therefore 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 the above are specific to my personal 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 to hold my tongue on many occasions. But, I feel strongly that knowledge is power.  Therefore, the best way to respond to such misguided preconceptions is to educate and raise awareness.

This is my first piece for Limitless Travel. If you liked it, please share!


2 thoughts 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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