Wheelchair Use and The Way We See “People with Wheels”



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The amount of wheelchair use in America is not negligible. As seen in the list below, 2.2 million people in the U.S. use a wheelchair daily. In fact, you probably know someone who uses a wheelchair. I have one in my garage, left-over from my caregiver days. You never know when it may be put to use again.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that:

  • One in five Americans has a disability of some kind.
  • 33 million Americans have a disability that makes it difficult for them to carry out daily activities; some have challenges with everyday activities, such as attending school or going to work, and may need help with their daily care.
  • In the U.S., 2.2 million people rely on wheelchairs for daily activities and mobility.
  • 6.5 million people rely on crutches, a walker, or a cane to help them move around.

It’s All in How You Look at It.

You may have experience with wheelchair use yourself or live with a user. From my limited experience with wheelchairs and the people who use them, attitude has a lot to do with the user’s ability to enjoy life.

Frankly, I must confess that I’ve had a bad attitude about people with wheels. I think the bad attitude comes from thinking of myself,.. the person not in the wheelchair.

I felt I needed to “clear the path”, or be an assistant for anything and everything the user might need. That type of attitude assumes the person in the chair is somehow less of a person,… because they’re in a chair and I’m not.

But then I met a person who viewed his wheelchair as a source of freedom. He had the ability to be independent. I could tell he really didn’t want me to interfere with his comings and goings.

Wheelchair Use and Independence

There was a time when my mother needed a wheelchair to move about her home. She had suffered a stroke and was unable to stand or walk reliably. An Occupational Therapist was provided by Homehealth Care to assist with her recovery. She was 75+, the therapist was not yet 30.

I thought the young man did a great job. He set out to teach her all the things she could do in her wheelchair. He started with getting a glass of water. Getting something from the fridge. Doing a load of laundry.

He was polite, calm and courteous. She was aggressive, defiant and angry. Mom, please, give the guy a break.

A Tool for Mobility

He did his best, but in this case it wasn’t much. We were apologizing after each visit, but I guess this wasn’t the first adversary he’d met. He told us he would be willing to try again, if she changed her mind.

People forced into wheelchair use are often angry and upset. Asking “why did this happen to me?” I takes time to accept the fact that the wheelchair is not the enemy. The wheelchair is a tool used for independence. And a positive attitude is half the battle.

I can’t change another person’s attitude about using their wheelchair. I can only change my attitude. Perhaps I can provide people with wheels some encouragement. Maybe a can-do approach has to be accepted in their own time.