Imagine being in a room where there’s about to be a meeting with lots of people attending. Some are already there, and others arriving.
Now imagine people walking in, seeing you there, then stopping – swaying due to the sudden stop, and then suddenly doing a tight turn to walk in a different direction away from you.
Imagine the same thing at meal times, or a panicked look if you go anywhere near the table they are seated at.
I get this a lot, and I mean A LOT.
But there are also people who will chat, sit with me, grab a cuppa and occasionally ask about my current yarn craft projects.
I go to lots of meeting because of my ministry work and find that in those meetings people generally split into four categories:
- Those who know me and accept the changes I’ve gone through over the years.
- Those who don’t really know me, but don’t let my differences get in the way.
- Those who have known me in the past, but struggle with the changes I’ve gone through.
- Those who don’t know me at all, spot a wheelchair and make assumptions.
Guess which ones stop and chat and which ones try to ignore my presence. Guess which ones blank me when I smile across the room.
And guess how I feel when someone I knew ‘pre-wheelchair’ looks at me in utter horror and walks the other way.
I’ve asked other wheelchair users if they get the same thing and they do, so it’s not just me. It hurts them too.
What on earth is so horrific about using a wheelchair?
Some struggle with it due to their theological beliefs.
For some, I don’t fit neatly into their concept of ‘what a leader should look like’.
I also mess plans up due the wheelchair – it makes simple arrangements complicated because of the access I need: The building the meeting is in needs to be accessible with accessible facilities. I can’t get on a platform to speak (actually I can, but…’assumptions’…which mean I’m rarely asked). When attendees are asked to come to the front to do something or respond, I can’t because of all the tables/chairs/people in the way.
I can’t even fetch my own drink or food most of the time.
Yep, my wheelchair messes people’s plans up – big time!
Some have never met a disabled person and just don’t know what to do. And apparently, 67% of brits are scared of talking to disabled people! (Scope research).
It’s not rocket science! Just talk to us like you would anyone else. Smile, and don’t be scared. We are humans who just happen to use wheels.
For me – I won’t tell you off if you use the ‘wrong’ language, because I get it wrong too.
And…… I don’t like tea! (Bring me coffee and I’ll be your friend for life!)