Do me a favor and just for a moment imagine, you, an altruistic person, are walking out of an office building and in front of you, aiming to go down the ramp placed there for ease of access is a young woman in a wheelchair. The only other people anywhere near you are the person you are with who is following you and another woman walking slightly in front of and to the side of the woman in the wheelchair.
The young woman in the wheelchair is self-propelling down the ramp. Yes it is a short ramp and as such you would roll down it quickly and into the road if you didn’t know what you were doing. The young woman is not in any way struggling.
What do you do?
Your choices are:
A) Follow the young woman down the ramp while talking to your companion, possibly smile at the young woman and other woman as you move past them.
B) Ask the young woman if she needs any help and give any assistance she says she’d be thankful for but graciously accept she doesn’t need any if she declines.
C) Not say anything to her but grab the handles on her wheelchair to keep her from flying into the road.
Think about this for a minute. Which one would you do?
Is your answer C? Why?
Why on earth would you think it is acceptable to invade someone’s personal space without so much as a ‘by your leave’? I already said she was clearly steering herself without any problems. Why would you think she needed help?
If your answer is not C, thank you. You would not believe the number of people who think it’s okay to grab the handles on my daughter’s wheelchair, without even asking, just because they think they are helping her. Did she really look like she needed help? Just because she’s in a wheelchair?
This exact thing happened to my daughter as we were leaving a medical office building. I turned back to her to make sure she didn’t want my help and happened to notice two things. She was fine and some lady behind her was reaching for the handles on her wheelchair without letting my daughter even know she was there.
I said, “She’s fine and very independent.”
Fortunately that was enough to get the lady to back off. Though when I mentioned it to my daughter she complained about others grabbing her chair without her knowledge and consent. She pointed out others in her support groups, who are wheelchair users because of EDS or OI mentioned the issue too. Not only because it is annoying to have someone take your independence away but it had the potential to hurt them.
People with OI have fragile bone and can break them with the slightest movement. Your taking control of their chair while they are trying to steer it could break bones in their hands and arms. People with EDS can dislocate joints just as easily. The same thing applies to them.
Do you really want to hurt a complete stranger just because you THOUGT you could be helpful?
Though the one thing my daughter complained about the most was well meaning people pushing her right into walls and door jams she could have avoided on her own. If you don’t know how to safely push a wheelchair around an obstacle, then don’t! If you are a medical professional and it’s your job to push wheelchair users then I strongly suggest you learn how to steer better.
Also if you want to help someone in a wheelchair by holding a door for them, please do. It can be hard for them to open doors. But please pull the door by the handle and stand at that end, well out of the way, or your toes might get run over as the wheelchair user tries to steer into a doorway you are partially blocking by trying to push the door open near the hinge.
Yes, I have had to tell a well-meaning lady that I had the door for my daughter and to please move out of the doorway so my daughter could enter without running over her toes.
By the way, since she was clearly doing fine, B IS NOT the best answer. Only ask if they need help when it is clear they are having problems, like when they are struggling to open a door or get around another obstacle.
A is the answer. Smile, be friendly, but don’t invade their personal space.
You can read my daughter’s thoughts on this on her blog post of September 7th on
Mamma Bear rant over.
Smile. Make the day a brighter day.