Rolling Without Limits

Your mobility may be limited. Your voice, boundless.

Now you see me? Personal Space in the Wheelchair World
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Now you see me? Personal Space in the Wheelchair World

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!

Leave a Comment

  1. Daniel Andrei Garcia
    Daniel Andrei Garcia
    Voted. Maybe they were trying to avoid a situation like this: It's a picture of Stephen Hawking running over Jim Carrey's foot. What happened to you was truly horrible and unconscionable. I can understand how you felt. As an able bodied person, I can tell you this: the world's personal spaces are diminishing every second. "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?" No definitely not.
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  2. Tara Richardson
    Tara Richardson
    My fiancé’ definitely would have said something to the woman if I hadn’t already. I am very polite but in that situation, I would have said as loud as I could “Excuse me," am I in your way? I would hope the lady would be embarrassed and apologize. Something tells me that lady wouldn’t have cared even if you had said something. I normally have my ever-faithful dog on my lap, and that is generally what people see first. I hear AWWWW how cute, and I know it's coming; someone spotted my service dog, and because he’s smaller than most, he appears cute and cuddly not on duty. If I don’t have him, I've been rolling behind someone pretty close, and they open the door for themselves and slam it in my face. Totally unaware that I was sitting there.
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  3. beckthewreck
    I have been disabled my entire life due to Polio (tail end of epidemic). Be aware that "selective sight" exists. "Normal" people don't see what makes them uncomfortable, and disabilities make them feel uncomfortable. I have accepted this fact forever. I have learned to be loud. I have my loud "how dare" you moments where I point out loudly what a person is doing that inappropriate behavior and socially unacceptable. It's amazing how quickly they say, "Oh, I didn't see you there." I believe them, but I don't excuse them. I do have a VW horn on my electric wheelchair which I am known for using at times.
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