I was on my way to work one day, I had parked in the car park at the front of the building. I got my wheelchair from the car and got in, just like every day before.
I began to wheel myself to the front entrance, there’s a small incline towards the doors. My arm muscles aren’t necessarily as strong as they should have been to wheel myself around so I was a little slow. I suddenly felt a push from behind me, my wheels seemed to be moving faster than my arms were.
I had to move my hands out of the way slightly before they got caught up in my wheels. I had a chill run down my spine and then I started to hear the sound of male laughter behind me and to the side of me. The chills in my spine continued to spread. I turned around to see a contractor, someone I didn’t know, pushing me in my wheelchair into the building.
I was in shock, I didn’t understand what was going on. My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Explaining this now in words sounds as though I had all the time in the world, however, this all happened in less than two minutes. My mouth started to move and words were coming out. I wasn’t sure how though because my mind was a mess, but words came out in the form of “No, no thank you’.
Now obviously these were not the words that should have come from my mouth and honestly I wish they hadn’t come out in such a mousy way. As I spoke the man let go of my wheelchair and him and his friend walked off laughing. I don’t believe that it was my words that made him leave, I believe that he got bored and realised we weren’t heading in the same direction and the joke was over between him and his friend.
After this I relatively quickly (because as I said I can’t propel myself that easily) moved towards the office. Once I was in and at my desk I had to take a moment to think, to calm, to… something. To be honest I didn’t know what I needed to do. I was scared, angry and confused. I genuinely could not understand what had just happened and how someone thought that such a thing was acceptable!
I began to replay it in my mind I should have stopped him sooner, I should have said something, maybe I should have asked someone else for help, a colleague perhaps so I felt a little more safe. Why would someone do that? What were they laughing about? Why were they laughing, because he thought he was funny? Were they laughing at me? Were they laughing because I was slow or because I was in a wheelchair? My head kept spinning but I knew I had work to do. I knew in an ideal world I would have said something but this had never happened to me, how would I know what to say?
I settled myself and began work but honestly it never left my thoughts and I was quite distracted by it. I began to think, does this happen to other people? How far do some people take it (the person pushing the wheelchair)? How would someone else have responded? I thought about it a little more and I realised that I had heard about this happening to some one else before, a long time ago. I couldn’t really remember the circumstances or the details but the thought that this is a ‘thing’ that happens just circled around my brain. I wondered if this would be something that would happen again but I figured I had gone so long without such an incident that the likelihood was that it wouldn’t happen again.
I was wrong…One week later my routine the same, park, wheelchair, sit, wheel, work and… it happened again. I had just entered the first set of automatic doors into the building, I was heading towards the second set and I was preparing myself for the carpet (carpet, particularly this carpet can be hard to propel yourself on) and suddenly I was moving faster than I had ever managed before on the carpet. My wheels were moving too fast for my hands and a chill ran down my spine. I began to panic, perhaps more so than I had before. I turned my head around to see a man pushing my wheelchair with a few of his friends to my left. We reached another set of doors just passed reception I kept repeating myself “No, no stop. I’m fine, I’m fine.” The man kept pushing me and I was panicking. I wanted him to stop but if I am honest I was more concerned that he had began to push me past my office and I had no idea where or how far he was going to take me.
I pointed towards my office door: “Here, here. I’m fine, no I’m fine”. The man finally stopped however, it became clear at this point as he tried to communicate with me that he didn’t speak any English or at least not very good English. Now this is no excuse given how many times I said no and threw my hands around trying to explain that I wanted him to stop.
I made it into my office, thankfully this felt like a safe space. I shared the office with several other people and you are only able to enter if you have a specific key card to open the door. I positioned myself at my desk as I had the previous week and began to try to calm myself, to yet again attempt to comprehend what had just happened. I had convinced myself after the previous week that it would never happen again, that it couldn’t be a regular occurrence, that it was a ‘thing’ that doesn’t happen very often. So although this had happened only one week before I was more confused by the situation and perhaps slightly more scared.
To anyone who believes that either one or both of these people were trying to help me, I would say I disagree in regards to their intent and how the situation came about. The first man who was laughing and pushing me, I believe he thought it would be a funny joke between himself and his friend. Trust me, from my point of view there was nothing funny about this. Now the second guy I am more prone to believing that he thought he was helping me. Although I may have been moving slowly this does not necessarily mean I was in genuine need of help. I know it may have looked like I was however, the correct way to go about the situation would have been to ask me.
This is the main point I wish to get across - if you see someone in a wheelchair and you think they might be having difficulty, whether that’s pushing themselves, opening a door etc, ask. Ask if they need your help. Why? Because that person may be fine. What you see may be how they cope or how they complete the task in hand. To someone I may have looked like I was having difficulties maneuvering my wheelchair and yes they would be right. However, I could still do it. I was just a little slower than another wheelchair user may have been. If the help had been offered my response would have been ‘Thank you but no I’m ok, I can manage’. There is nothing acceptable about walking up behind someone in a wheelchair and to start pushing without their knowing and consent.
To some people these ‘incidents’ may not seem like much but trust me they are. Since then whenever I go out in my wheelchair I think it’s safe to say there is a level of paranoia that is always there. This is much worse at times where I have been on my own or I am propelling my wheelchair myself. After these experiences I don’t find it surprising that there is a level of paranoia and anxiety around going out in my wheelchair. However, I shouldn’t have these feelings.
Whenever I go out in my wheelchair now, if my chairs moves slightly in a different way to what I am expecting, I panic. I quickly turn my upper body around to check behind me. I look to both sides of me and repeat. I have to try to switch off alarm mode in my head, to try to stay calm and collected. Now, when I say if my wheelchair moves differently I mean, if there’s a slight slope or uneven surface I think that someone has hold of me and my wheelchair. If I haven’t paid much attention to what’s beneath my wheels i.e. pavement, tarmac, cobbles, paving slabs, carpet or laminate flooring and I move differently and slightly quicker or with more force, I panic and I believe that someone has a hold of my wheelchair. I should feel safe and comfortable in my wheelchair. I shouldn’t be concerned that free handles on my wheelchair are an open invitation for someone to push me or move me around.
I have heard a lot of stories since starting my blog and my social media in the ‘Spoonie/Chronic Illness Community’. Some of which include how people in wheelchairs are genuinely moved by a stranger because they are in the way. Many people don’t receive the social normality of someone saying “excuse me” in a shop, on the street etc. I honestly do not understand how someone thinks this is acceptable or even the slightest bit funny.
Now I will say something which most people find amusing and genuinely believe to be utterly ridiculous, even though this is what happens to many people in a wheelchair…If I were to come up behind you in a shop and pick you up and move you because you were in my way, would that be ok? If you were walking along and I decided you weren’t walking fast enough and I stood behind you pushing you forwards, would that be ok? Or would you feel violated, panicked, scared and angry?
Wheelchair users are people too. We deserve to be treated with the same human decency and respect as anyone else. Whether or not you have ‘good intent’ it is not ok to move someone without their consent. To believe that just because that person is in a wheelchair/is disabled they can’t make their own choices and you shouldn’t have to converse with them. I can’t speak for every other wheelchair user however, I am more than capable of having a friendly conversation and to maneuvere myself (or ask the person who is supporting me at that time).
To summarise, it is not ok to push or move someone in a wheelchair without their consent first. We have the same rights, we should be treated like any other person. If you feel that a wheelchair user may need help or is stuck, just ask them. Are they ok? Do they need your help? What would you like me to do to help/support you?
Please help me spread awareness of this issue by sharing and liking this post because this is not ok and awareness needs to be spread. If you have had any similar experiences in the past share your story and how you dealt with the situation and help spread awareness. As always thank you to my readers for your support, it does not go unappreciated one bit! Now let's get another important message out there!
Note: Some of these stories/references were prior to me leaving my job at a hotel and giving up work due to my health.