Why is He in a Wheelchair?

Last updated: December 2021

"Why is he in a wheelchair?" If I had a dollar every time I heard that phrase, I would be rich.

I am an extrovert by nature. I enjoy being out and about. I have always tried to keep up an active social life.

Standing out to children

Kids are fascinated with anything different. When you have spinal muscular atrophy and you use a wheelchair or a scooter to get around, you stand out a bit. Especially to children.

I usually notice a child checking out my scooter. Then I’ll hear them asking questions to their mom or dad.

I find it funny when their parents try to hush them. The parents are usually embarrassed. If I’m in earshot, I always engage.

Explaining why I use a wheelchair or scooter

My go-to line is usually "isn’t it cool that I can drive inside a store?" Kids always nod in agreement.

I’ll leave it at that but sometimes they’ll ask why I am using my scooter. Then I tell them that my muscles aren’t as strong as theirs and this is how I walk.

Usually, at this point their parents become relaxed and their embarrassed red face goes away. I always found it important that kids understand that disabled folks are not much different from them.

When I engage with them, I hope that they see disability as normal. I think that is very important because we are normal.

Hopefully, if I can positively impact a kid, that will carry on with their future interactions with other disabled people.

I know it can be a pain to constantly be an ambassador for the disabled. While I am an outgoing person, I never wanted to be a spokesperson for the disabled community.

However, we kind of automatically become one even if we don’t want to be. So we have to ask ourselves, how do we want to handle this?

Do you want to make this a positive experience for a kid or an uncomfortable one for everyone involved? I hope that you don’t need to think hard about this.

Engaging with kids around a disability

When it comes to engaging with kids, I really want to encourage you to make it a positive situation for them. Kids are curious. They don’t know better.

Social etiquette is not on their radar. However, we do know better. I take the approach that we are all teachers. Opportunities like this are a great teaching moment for that young child.

I get it. We don't always want to do it. Maybe we are having a horrible day.

We can be in one of those moods where we are angry about being disabled. That’s normal sometimes.

I’ve been there myself. However, if you take the opportunity to create a positive interaction with a curious child, I promise you that you will feel better about yourself. 

It’s like when we feel better about ourselves when we give someone a gift. We tend to experience more happiness giving than receiving. That’s the philosophy here.

How have you handled these situations in your life? How has it made you feel afterward? Do you have a “go-to” phrase when you encounter a curious child?

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