Sunday, 27 September 2015

To Ask or Not To Ask, That is The Question...

Recently I've noticed a fair few articles have popped up online that have all been along the lines of, "What Not To Say To/Ask Someone In A Wheelchair" and has then laid out a list of verbal taboos when conversing with a gimp (Taboo No.1: Don't refer to them as a gimp!) So I dutifully read through and processed these lists, coming to the conclusion that, on the one hand, I can understand how certain topics of conversation or actions during conversation may upset or offend certain people (disabled or otherwise), but on the other hand, able-bodied people shouldn't have to feel on edge and be constantly wary of what they're saying around someone with a disability. And part of me can't help but think that reading multiple articles where you are told, "you must make eye contact at all times" and "whatever you do, don't mention their disability" are going to make people terrified of even starting a conversation with a disabled person lest they offend them and be branded a wascally wheelchair wacist by judgemental onlookers (who, for purely alliterative purposes, all talk like Elmer Fudd)! Personally, I've always been terrible at making eye contact when talking to strangers, but this has nothing to do them and everything to do with me being a somewhat socially awkward soul. And as far as not mentioning their disability or ailment goes, I'm of the firm belief that if you've gotten off on the wrong foot with someone then try and lighten the mood by throwing in a bit of humour. Hell, what's the worst that could happen?!

Joking aside, I can honestly say that, in all the years I've been in a wheelchair, I can't think of a single instance where someone has offended me with anything they've said or asked. Don't get me wrong, there are certain things that I won't *ahem* stand for, and if someone were to grab the back of my chair and start pushing me without my permission then they're liable to lose some fingers. But as far as conversation topics are concerned, anything goes really. Certain topics and questions come up on a fairly regular basis, but every now and then a curve ball is thrown in to spice things up! Children are especially entertaining to chat to, as without hesitation, they will ask the first thing that comes into their heads, often as adults look on in embarrassed horror!

So with that in mind I thought I'd create a list of my favourite insert number when finished twelve questions/utterances that have been directed towards me during my time in a chair. For the full, immersive experience, click 'Play' on the video below before continuing:

1) Do you mind if I ask/Can I ask you something?

By far the most common thing I hear when talking to someone for the first time, and it's always building up to the same follow-up question. So instead of having them wait for my permission to awkwardly ask with a sympathetic look, the inevitable "how did you end up in a wheelchair?", I now cut-out the middle man completely and just say, "car crash". Cue the other person staring in amazement, as if I'd made a deal with the devil, sacrificing leg movement for telepathy. (I totally did!)

2) What's wrong with your legs?

If the first question was the most common thing I get asked by adults, then this question is the most common thing I get asked specifically by children. What follows is me trying to explain the complex intricacies of the human spinal cord, what happens if you damage part of it and how, in fact there is nothing wrong with my legs at all, as the child nods in bemused bewilderment!

 3) How do you go to the toilet?

I was asked this a few years ago by a primary school boy and it's still the only time I've ever been asked it but it stuck in my head as I thought it was a fairly profound question. As far as that child was concerned, all guys pee standing up, but if you can't stand up then how the hell do you go?! Obviously I couldn't answer it without immediately getting hauled off by social services to sign a certain register but kudos for the astute enquiry wee man!

4) Do you sleep in your chair?

That all depends on how much I've had to drink!

5) Can you still drive? How does that work?

Pretty common questions among both children and adults which, if I'm in the car at the time, will result in me giving a little demo, revving the engine with the push/pull hand control lever, and if I'm not in the car, will result in me explaining how it works whilst poorly miming the actions!

6) Are you actually disabled then?

I got asked this corker a couple of months ago by someone in the pub, so I told them, "not really no, I'm only in this for the parking spot". You could argue that alcohol played a factor in this question, but seeing as this took place around lunchtime, it must've been one hell of an early start!

7) How fast does that thing go?

The wheelchair equivolent of pointing at someone's legs and asking, "so how fast do they go?"

8) Driving and texting, you could lose your licence! (Whilst pushing and using a mobile)

9) So who looks after you during the day?

A guy randomly asked me this stonker a few weeks ago and if it hadn't been early morning (I am not a morning person!) I probably would have burst out laughing! Instead I fell back on sarcasm and replied that, "surprisingly I manage to look after myself!" I wasn't particularly upset or annoyed, more amused at the assumption being made. The London Paralympic legacy was obviously lost on him!

10) Can you, you know, have sex?

I'm usually asked this question under hushed breath, the other person leaning in whilst gesturing downwards, as if being in a wheelchair so long had made me lose track of where my penis had got to! Yes, people in wheelchairs can have sex, although *flicks through Kama Sutra* the er...Lustful Leg and Suspended Scissors are probably out of the question!

11) Besides your wheelchair, what's the one piece of kit that you couldn't be without? 

Oh the number of times I've been asked this, and yet my answer always remains the same: "Why the multi-purpose Active Hands gripping aids of course!" *nod nod wink wink*

And finally...

12) I really admire you and/or I couldn't do what you do.

Ah this old chestnut. In truth, it's not something you really think about before it happens, "how would I cope if I was in a wheelchair?" But regardless of whether you think you'd be totally fine with it or whether you think you'd be immediately booking a one-way ticket to Switzerland, the reality is that the human body and mind have an amazing survival instinct and you will naturally, often without realising it, adapt to and overcome whatever obstacles life throws at you, no matter how insummountable they may seem from the outside. So don't admire me for living, admire me for being a snazzy dresser with razor sharp wit!



  1. Snazzy dresser and wit.... lmao

  2. Snazzy dresser and wit.... lmao

    1. It's my blog so I'm allowed to take the occasional creative liberty :-P

  3. Replies
    1. I feel similarly about walking, an unnecessary luxury for the unwashed masses!