You Can’t Ask That To Someone In A Wheelchair

Recently the ABC aired the brilliant series You Can’t Ask That

You Can’t Ask That asks groups of misunderstood, judges or marginalised Australia that awkward, inappropriate or uncomfortable questions you’ve always wanted to know that answers, but always been too afraid to ask. – ABC

I can relate to series 1, episode 2 on Wheelchair Users. I have challenged myself to answer the questions and added a few more. I’ve had quite a bit of practice.

Why are you in a wheelchair?

I agree that this is a common question and it’s bizarre that people ask it. I got asked this a lot when I was younger and usually by curious children in the supermarket. I always felt awkward and just ignored it because it’s none of anyone else’s business. I still feel awkward when I’m asked it and pretend to ignore. I’m quite a shy and private person when it comes to talking to strangers.

Get to know me first and then I will happily tell you.

If you must know, no I wasn’t born with it. I have been disabled for over 18 years as the result of a car accident when I was five years old (not my fault, obviously). I require the use of a wheelchair and can’t feel from the chest down.

Please don’t then follow with comments feeling sorry for me. This is my life now and I make it work ok.

What are the perks of life in a wheelchair?

It was made aware during You Can’t Ask That, and I completely agree, that what people think are a perk are not necessarily a perk to me but make my life possible. I have received comments like it’s a bonus that I get to sit down all the time, always have my own chair and that I get to use disability parking.

It was also brought up during You Can’t Ask That that shows not wearing out is a bonus. It’s true, my shoes always break before they are worn out because I can’t stand or walk. On the flip side though my wheels do come into contact with my hands when pushing so if I roll over anything disgusting then I will want to wash my hands right away.

Skipping queues is a bonus. V.I.P entrance is also a bonus if it means not waiting in line. It can be frustrating when it involves going the long way or through a back entrance.

Disability viewing areas are a bonus. It enables me to actually see. New Years in Sydney had a disability viewing area right near the Opera House with a great view of the Harbour Bridge and I didn’t have to reserve my space early in the morning. On the downside there’s often limited choice of disability spaces at cinemas and theatres.

Can you shower yourself?

Yes, I can and I have my bathroom setup to meet my needs. The difference is that I sit down and use a hand held shower. It can get tricky when staying in other places.

Do you get mad when you see people with legs being lazy?

Yes, I do to some extent. I don’t understand why you take the elevator to go just one floor when it’s often quicker to use the escalator or stairs. There is also less risk of getting trapped. I have on occasion tried to choose who I rode in the elevators with by pressing the door closed button when people think I am press the door open button and then giggled when you thanked me.

Does the wheelchair ruin the romance?

Yes, it’s a barrier and I am single.

Maybe guys assume that I will depend on them or have a carer to help me. I am independent and proud of it. I want a loving partner not a carer.

Internet dating is where it gets complicated. I haven’t found a guy yet who immediately is ok with dating me and doesn’t straight away ask questions. I want guys to get to know me first. I included a picture that if you looked closely then you can see that I am in a wheelchair but I didn’t want to make it too obvious. Turning up to the date can then be awkward as the guy most likely isn’t expecting me to be in a wheelchair.

My first date was awkward with him giving me a go only because his mum believes in Buddhism. We didn’t speak after that.

I was talking to another guy online who kept commenting that he wanted to see my backside. I kept hinting that I was sitting down. It humoured me that he never got the hint that I will always be sitting down.

Can you have sex?

Yes. I still have emotions and a body. It’s something for me and a loving partner to work out.

Do you care if people use the disabled toilet?

Yes, I do. There is often a struggle to find accessible bathrooms. The accessible bathroom is the only one that I can use because I can fit my wheelchair inside and close the door.

How do you feel when someone says “you’re an inspiration”?

I have received this comment many times by strangers. I have also been congratulated for just being out. I feel like strangers often tell me to have a nice day when they wouldn’t say it to able-bodied people.

I completely agree with the late Stella Young, I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much.

I feel awkward and find it hard to respond. I haven’t done anything to be inspirational other than living my life with a disability. It’s frustrating to see quotes and stories shared on social media too.

How do you feel when you’re asked about your independence?

It’s frustrating when people assume that I need carers because I am in a wheelchair. I recall being at the register at the shops and my Mum is told how much something is so she looks at them and comments that she isn’t paying and then they eventually look at me who is waving my money at them ready to pay. I can do it myself. I have worked hard and I am proud of my independence.

Did you just get back from Rio? Why not? 

Recently, I was at Central Station and waiting to board a train. I was asked if I had just been to Rio to compete in the Paralympics. I replied with an awkward sympathy laugh and said no. It seemed a bit too far when he went on to ask why not. I felt like asking him the same questions in reply. Please do not assume that every wheelchair user is a paralympian. I do enjoy sports but it takes a lot of work to be a Paralympian and isn’t a dream of mine.

My friend or family member is in a wheelchair, do you know them?

The answer is usually no. Most of my friends and family members are able-bodied. We do not have a compulsory club or meetings where we know everyone else in a wheelchair.

How do you feel when asked “Is it ok if we go without you”?

No, it’s never ok. I have Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). I have had friends hold get togethers and celebrations at locations they’ve liked but aren’t wheelchair friendly when a simple change of location could have allowed me to attend. I do not like to argue so have left it and shed a few tears.

How fast can you go?

My manual wheelchair is powered by my own arms and sometimes a little help from others. A person can walk, job and run at different speeds and my wheelchair can go at different speeds as well. I don’t find it funny when the question goes on to joke that I could get a speeding ticket. I usually only go fast when going downhill and trust me it’s easier to go fast to conserve my energy that I used to get uphill in the first place.

Can I pray for you?

You can pray for whoever you want. Please do not go on about how you’ve seen people’s disabilities healed. If I knew that prayer was all it too then I would definitely be walking by now.

You must be fit from using your wheelchair? 

Pushing a wheelchair doesn’t mean that I am fit. You walk but that doesn’t mean you are fit either.

Do you get annoyed when people comment on your wheelchair?

I used to not like it when people would comment about my wheelchair when I was a kid but now I don’t mind being asked. I will happily tell you that my wheelchair, who I have named Leonardo because he’s Italian, cost a whopping $15,000 because it’s made out of carbon fibre (similar to those fancy bikes) and only weighs about 10kg.

Do you get annoyed when people ask if you would like a helping hand?

It’s polite to ask once and I always acknowledge with a thanks but please don’t keep asking if I have declined your offer.

Don’t assume anything. Everybody is different and so are disabilities. I encourage you to ask questions but first ask yourself how you would feel if you were asked the same question and always ask to the person in the wheelchair. 

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