Since I’ve been busier than usual this week, I decided to write a fun post where I shared fifteen, short interesting wheelchair facts and personal disability stories to put a smile on your face and show you what it’s like to be a disabled teen:
My first wheelchair was pink and had a picture of cartoon ballerinas as its wheelchair cover. I called her Rosie and used to talk to her like she was my friend when I was younger! Since then I’ve had Oceana, Ruby Electromite (my electric wheelchair), and my current manual wheelchair who is called Selina Kyle. I called her that because of her smooth, silent wheels which purr beneath me while I ride like Catwoman. A wheelchair is more than just an object; I feel emotionally attached to each chair.
Fun fact: if a rollercoaster ride has a wheelchair lift to bring wheelchairs onto the ride, permanent wheelchair-users are still not allowed to go on it. Why? In case of an emergency, you need to be able to walk off the ride. Yay, accessibility!!??…
Most swimming pools have cool underwater wheelchairs for those that need them. They are designed to be able to ride around underwater on the floor of the pool (and are a lot of fun). I’ve even visited a beach with a chair lift that helps to lower you into the sea, which is extremely useful if you are a disabled beach-lover like me. Other types of wheelchairs that I’ve seen are: wheelchairs for skiing, skydiving, rock-climbing, hiking (they look so cool), and even wheelchairs that travel deep underwater for long scuba-diving trips.
My electric wheelchair is called Ruby Electromite (Electronic Dynamite). I had to get her for school because the campus was so big. I have a licence for her and even had to take a test to make sure that I had the skills to ride her responsibly – much like a driver’s test! Ruby is special because she can zoom around the school like nobody’s business. She has a horn which is useful for getting people’s attention when they’re in my way, and my friends can stand on the back and hold on while I zoom along for an awesome ride. She may need charging every now and then, but she’s still my secret weapon.
Unfortunately, Ruby has an on and off button on her. This means that people occasionally turn me off if they want me to stop moving. Rude! I can’t just ‘turn off’ someone’s legs and restrict their movement! People also accidentally turn off the chair when they pass me in the hallway and it takes a little while to turn on again. So everyone else in the hallway needs to be patient while they wait for it to get moving again (although some people aren’t and can also be quite rude about it).
You’re not allowed to use lifts in an emergency. So what do wheelchair-users do? At school, during fire drills, I had to use a special chair that had four handles on either side so that teachers could pick it up (like the kind used to transport Egyptian royalty) and lift me up the stairs. I HATED that chair: my whole body was strapped in so tightly that it felt like a straight-jacket, it was uncomfortable, restricted movement, and made me look ridiculous with four teachers on either side struggling to lift me up. When a child pressed the fire alarm on a dare and condemned me to an entire afternoon of humiliation in that chair. I was NOT. HAPPY.
The wheelchair area on buses is frequently used by parents with baby prams. This means that when I sit on the bus, I’m usually next to an adorable baby. Sometimes they even try to grab my knees and touch my wheelchair with their small, chubby hands or try to speak to me in baby language which always puts a smile on my face.
Riding a wheelchair with a flat tire is like trying to pull yourself across the street on your stomach: it’s. hard.
I used to struggle with my sleep patterns: I often fell asleep in class, church, or in the school taxi by accident. I even used to fall asleep while riding my electric wheelchair! I’d jolt awake to find that I had just ridden into a wall or knocked something over. Sometimes it was crazy just how far I pushed myself without waking up. Those were never my proudest moments – at least no one got hurt!
If you know electric wheelchairs, you know that dirt and mud are their enemies. I’ve spent hours of my life with my wheelchair stuck deep in mud. This sometimes happened at school in the forest near the play-area. After ages of calling out for help, my second instinct was to… take a nap. Why not? I knew that they’d find me eventually. I was usually found calmly sleeping in the forest, stuck fast, and waiting patiently for help.
I’ll definitely talk about this in more detail in a later post, but my family once visited a rollercoaster park that said that it was wheelchair-accessible on its website. It even had its own wheelchairs which its visitors could rent. However, they wouldn’t allow me to go on any of the rides. When we asked why they had wheelchairs for rent if nothing was wheelchair-accessible, they said that it was so wheelchair-users could ride around the park and watch everyone else having fun. Again: yay, accessibility??!… (This experience was made worse by the fact that I love rollercoaster parks, so we travelled all the way to Germany just to go to this supposedly incredible park for a special birthday treat. We all ended up leaving in tears instead).
If you sit down all of the time, your body will probably protest against you. Exhibit A: pressure sores. Exhibit B: leg pain.
My eldest sister and her boyfriend once took me to a pier near the sea. The wind was so strong there that it pushed my wheelchair for me. It was so much fun – it felt like flying! I went along the pier for ages with my arms out, letting the wind whisk me along. Even when I’m pushing my wheelchair on the street when it’s windy, it occasionally pushes me along for me.
When I was younger, I used to think that only people with no legs could ride in racing wheelchairs in the Paralympics. It wasn’t until I sat in one myself that I realised that the rider’s lower legs get tucked into a pouch underneath the chair – that’s why it looks like they’re not there. It’s like your kneeling and sitting on top of your lower legs. You have to lean forwards while you ride it, if you were to sit up straight the imbalance would tip you backwards. And you can’t steer – there is a lever on the chair that you push to the left or right and then it will continue to naturally turn the chair in that direction along the circular track as you ride. In an ordinary manual wheelchair, you hold one wheel still and then move the other to turn. That’s a question I get a lot.
My foot has been rolled over before by an electric wheelchair when I used to be able to walk – it’s not fun. I’ve also rolled over other people’s feet after I started using one myself – that was even worse because it made me feel awfully guilty about hurting them. Controlling a wheelchair of that size isn’t as easy as it looks and it’s bound to happen at least once. Another thing that occasionally happens is that I run over my own foot while I’m driving my electric wheelchair, causing the foot to get pulled back into the wheelchair’s machinery and become stuck inside of it. This is excruciating and it can take a long time to finally pull my foot back out.
That’s it from me! Which was your favourite fact or anecdote? What’s something that you’ve always wondered about wheelchairs? Feel free to ask in the comments below. I’ll see you all in a week on the 30th for my one-year blogiversary special!