I went to the Opticians this week and Growler pushed me in my wheelchair from the car park into the town centre to the opticians store. I think I’ve been in town just twice in the last year.
I’m always a bit nervous going new places in my wheelchair because access in unknown. Even going places who describe themselves as accessible on their web sites the reality can often prove very different.
I’m also concerned by “appearances”. What will people think when I hop out of my wheelchair?
At the opticians the two collided.
First there was a small step up into the opticians which wouldn’t havebeen too bad except the door heavy and pulled towards you taking up all the space on the step and then there was a small metal lip at the base of the doorway to get over too. it was just easiest for me to get out of the chair, hold the door for Growler who bumped the chair inside and then for me to sit back down.
It felt weird for him to wheel me around the shop when I had proved capable of using my own legs. I had to keep reminding myself that if I didn’t have the chair I couldn’t have gotten there in the first place, then I wouldn’t be able to browse frames as I couldn’t stand for that long.
When it was time to go in for the eye test Growler wheeled me toward the consulting room which I just knew would be too tiny for the wheelchair. I hopped out in the doorway and sat in the consulting chair and wondered how people who relied on their wheelchair would cope as transfer would have been almost impossible.
I was grateful for the wheelchair especially once it came to choosing frames. ME/CFS and natural indecision meant it took a while to choose and I could focus on the task in hand and not be distracted by needing to collapse in a heap.
Tonight we have tickets to a comedy gig at a theatre I’ve not been to in a wheelchair. I’m nervous. I’m quite anxious in fact because I’m never sure what to expect. Will we have to fight our way to our seats, to the toilet, to see the show – or will the venue have really thought about these things for me? If the toilets are nearby will it be easier to walk than be pushed and scatter people around us, but will walking make just one person think I don’t need that chair? Does it matter? Apparently it does to me because I keep having these same anxieties.
I wonder what people make me of me jumping out my wheelchair enthusiastically. What’s ironic is I usually have to get out of the chair because it’s easier for everyone if I do because access is poor. Steps into a restaraunt, doors that would screw your back up trying to juggle them and pushing a wheelchair, walkways so narrow that turning the wheelchair disrupts everyone around you, people standing in doorways and theatre aisles where you can’t squeeze past in a wheelchair by breathing in, parents with toddlers using disabled toilets as extra large toilets especially for their use, tables in a cafe so close together it’s get out of the chair or sit right by the draft entrance.
Aside from access what I want people to know is that the reason I can get out and walk is because I use the wheelchair. Without the chair I’d look and feel very different physically. So whilst I look (and sometimes feel) like a relatively normal person when I’m in the wheelchair that’s only because it’s doing it’s job – to not make me any more ill.
I suppose what I really need is not for them to know it, but for me to remember it and to hold my head high.