There are many times when a wheelchair can feel clumsy and cumbersome. After all, you do need to leave yourself more room to get around when pushing yourself in a chair with wheels that extend out on both sides. I often feel (more often than not) that my chair is the farthest thing from graceful, sometimes even feeling like I am getting into people’s way.
One advantage of the chair is that it does attract attention, which usually means people afford you more space and try not to get in your way, as most people will see you coming. So it was an unusual experience this weekend at church, when I was pushed out of the way.
My husband and I both use chairs. After church, the gathering space can get quite crowded with everyone coming and going. Aware that we do take up more room than the average standing person, we try to keep our wheels to ourselves, so to speak, and stay out of the walking paths of crowds as much as possible. We pulled up to a table outside of mass on our way out the door to look for our envelope filled with raffle tickets to sell for a fundraiser. The table was full of envelopes labeled with parishioners’ last names, requiring you to sort through dozens of envelopes to the find the one belonging to you.
As per our usual routine, I held onto the back of my husband’s wheelchair and pulled myself close to his chair to stay out of the way and to ensure we would not be separated in the crowd. When we are in public crowds together, strangers often like to put themselves between us, making it hard to stay together, so we try to stay as close as possible to avoid being wheeled apart.
A pair of ladies managed to forcefully squeeze themselves in between us, to get to their envelopes. One of the ladies actually threw the weight of her hips and elbows into my shoulders and arms forcing me to drop my grip on my husband’s wheelchair so she could shove herself in-between us to search for her envelope. Needless to say, we were separated in the crowd with the pair of ladies’ behinds in our view. I tried my best to wriggle my way out of the table area to avoid any more pushes and shoves from people who seemed more concerned with getting their tickets first than in showing respect to others.
This got me wondering if people in wheelchairs often have the experience of feeling invisible or less entitled to the same space as an able bodied, standing people who surely would have at least received an “Excuse me, ma’am,” before being pushed or wheeled out of the way?
Are we expected to allow the able-bodied world to have priority over available personal space, just because we are shorter and feel like we take up more space? Do we really take up more space because of our chairs or are we not entitled to the same personal boundaries as everyone else?
Does the same able bodied, public etiquette not apply to wheelchair users? What do you think? Share your opinion in the comments!