Life in a Wheelchair – Truths & Myths

Do we avoid eye contact with those in a wheelchair – or are we over helpful – let’s find out what the person in the wheelchair feels –misconceptions and myths about wheelchair users

Life in a Wheelchair – Truths & Myths

There are certain myths about wheelchair users that have been around for some time now. They emanate from ignorance which in turn is the outcome of the absence of interaction with someone who has mobility issues and is wheelchair bound. This leads to myths about and negative approach towards wheelchair users that they have to contend with on a daily basis

Here are a few of the myths about wheelchair users that have been doing the rounds for a long time now and need to be communicated, not that this is the first ever attempt towards creating awareness:

Users are bound to their wheelchairs

The term “wheelchair bound” has been taken literally by some people who are of the view that wheelchair users are bound or strapped to their mobile chairs. It’s the equivalent of saying that someone riding a cycle is bound to it. A wheelchair is just a specialized mode of transport for a person lacking mobility in the lower body meant to take him or her from one point to another.

Companies employ wheelchair users out of sympathy

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is meant to protect Americans with disabilities against discrimination. The Act does not bind employers, in any way, to hire disable people even if they do not meet the job requirements. So, the supposition by able people that the disabled on wheelchairs are hired out of sympathy or legal binding is really a myth and nothing more.

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Wheelchair users enjoy job immunity and can’t get fired 

This again is a misconception that needs a nip in the bud. Employers certainly have the freedom to fire a disabled employee provided they meet the following conditions attached to such terminations:

* The employee fails to meet the valid job requirements
* The reason for termination of service is not related to the employee’s disability
* The disability is a direct threat to safety or health at the place of work.

Wheelchair users are not dependable

On the contrary, most wheelchair users are known for their punctuality, excellent attendance record, and diligence at the workplace. Don’t forget; they have a point to prove that they are in no way inferior to an able bodied employee, in spite of their disabilities.

People in wheelchairs need help and assistance all the time

We often get to see strangers in public places going overboard in their attempt to help wheelchair users. This stems from the assumption that wheelchair users are always seeking help which is totally untrue. Most wheelchair users are quite adept at their day to day activities and could well do without our sympathy or help. However, if someone is visibly struggling, offering assistance in such a scenario would be the polite thing to do.

Disabled people on wheelchairs prefer the company of people like them and live differently from others

This is an entirely warped conception that is fuelled early at public schools where children with disabilities are segregated from normal students. This gives rise to the misconception, very early in life, that disabled people are different and do not like to mix with able-bodied people.

People with disabilities are no different than able-bodied people in that they lead the same lives as most of us do. They too go to school, grow up, get jobs, have a family of their own, laugh, cry, joke, and most importantly pay their taxes among other things that are part of anybody’s life whether disabled or able-bodied.

Disabled people are victims of depression and are always sad

Depression is something that anyone can fall victim to, able-bodied or disabled. A disabled person can be sad or depressed like, any other individual, which may not necessarily be related to the person’s disability.

Wheelchair users lack decision-making abilities

This is a weird assumption considering the fact that there are numerous examples of successful wheelchair users all over the world who are excellent decision makers and excel in what they do in their individual capacities.

Wheelchair users cannot have sexual relationships

This is another ridiculous myth that people have about disabled people on wheelchairs. Don’t forget that nature has blessed us with adaptability and sex is not the domain of able-bodied people only.

Wheelchair users are often asked some of the most shocking questions and often hear and experience things that are pretty much absurd and twisted. Almost daily they get to hear some of the most appalling comments about themselves. It is generally offensive, but many have been exposed to such comments and behavior for so long that they have learned to laugh at them.

Some of the most awkward and outrageous questions wheelchair users are asked are:

“How do you have sex?”

Well, it’s none of the anybody’s goddamned business! Ridiculous! It’s the most personal and inexcusable question one can ask of another person and, trust me, nobody walks up to an able-bodied person and asks him or her “How do you have sex?” unless the person is looking for a black eye.

“Are you Lonely?”

This question is not only preposterous but rude as well. It is pregnant with the implication that wheelchair users are not capable of having relationships. Let me tell you nothing can be farther from the truth because wheelchair users are as much human as anybody else. Happiness, family life, marital bliss, children are not the birthrights of able-bodied people only.

“Is your partner disabled too?”

This is another presumption that some people make when they ask the question. It’s as if they know the answer will be a certain “Yes.” Relationships and mutual attraction are matters of the heart and don’t really matter whether an able-bodied person is attracted to or in a relationship with a wheelchair user or vice versa.

“Have you ever had a flat tire?”

Now, this sounds like a smart Alec question but can be an innocent query, as well, because some wheelchairs have air filled tires too.

“Hope you get out of that thing soon.”

This comment to a wheelchair user whose disability is permanent sounds inappropriate and rude. Unless one is sure that the wheelchair is a temporary requirement one must refrain from making such a comment.

Having discussed the myths and the outlandish questions and comments wheelchair users are subjected to, let’s now talk about some absolute realities in a wheelchair user’s life.

Difficult days

Most wheelchair users are bound to have their difficult days when they are prone to bouts of depression and disbelief that their lives have been restricted to a wheelchair. However, it’s but natural for this to happen and one has to be strong in these moments which will eventually pass. And please remember that able-bodied people are also susceptible to depression. After all, disabled or able-bodied, we are equal humans.

Damage to wheelchair when flying

This is another universal truth that wheelchair users who travel frequently have to live with. Luggage handlers at airports are known for their inconsiderate handling of luggage including wheelchairs which is just another piece of luggage for them.

Wheelchairs are not inexpensive and may cost a minimum of US$ 5000. It is, therefore, imperative that one ensures proper packing of the wheelchair with the “Fragile – Handle with care” marking on it. Although it’s not a guarantee against damage, it minimizes the likelihood.

Comfortable seating

When you are sitting all day, you are exerting pressure on your seat and back which can lead to aching muscles and stiffness. Proper seating is of utmost importance, and it is recommended that a wheelchair user gets a customized seat available at most rehab centers.

Murphy’s Law

While it may sound ridiculous, wheelchairs are bound to break and get damaged when the user needs it the most, like on the weekend or a holiday. If it’s not Murphy’s Law, what is it?

Joints and muscles

As wheelchair users depend on their upper body for most functions, there is a tendency to overuse their shoulders, neck, elbows and wrists which can be painful and render them incapable of doing much. Massage, hot packs or a hot soak-up in the tub can alleviate the pain to a great extent.

To avoid muscle stiffness, which is the result of long hours of inactivity, stretching is highly recommended even if it requires seeking help from a caregiver or a family member.

There are numerous myths surrounding disability and wheelchair users that are blatant untruths or misrepresented facts. We should learn to treat people in wheelchairs no differently than other people. We ought to treat them with the same courtesy and respect that we would accord to an able bodied person.

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