alt=a smiling man in a wheelchair waves to faces of other people portraying a range of expressions.

Living Life in a Wheelchair

Living life in a wheelchair, you often encounter and have to react to two different situations that sound the same: stairs and stares. While stairs need to be handled on a case-by-case basis, I have a general practice for dealing with the stares.

Dealing with stares from others

My preference is to acknowledge the staring as kindly as possible. For me, that means a big smile and a cheery “Hello” or some other greeting.

Now, depending on the day, the cheerfulness of that greeting will vary, depending on how I rolled out of bed. With that said, I do my best to muster as much sunshine in my voice as possible that particular day.

In fact, during college, a friend of mine nicknamed me “Sunshine” due to my demeanor because of this practice.

Different reactions from adults and children

In general, this approach works for me no matter the age. Adults will either sheepishly turn away out of embarrassment at being spotted or return the greeting.

Most often people will return the greeting, which is what I prefer. Depending on my schedule at that particular time, if the greeting is returned, I will engage appropriately, which is a topic for another day.

My experience with children varies depending on their age. Young children either turn to their parents or attempt to engage. If they turn to the parents, the parents will either be embarrassed or seek to engage in some way.

I do my best to diminish the embarrassment however possible. Normally I try to assure the parents that it is only natural to be curious as a child.

The parents may apologize for the child. If so, I assure them no apology is necessary. The child was just curious.

Educating children when they have questions

If the parents seek to engage so the child may learn, I embrace any and all questions from the child. Again, assuming I have time.

By all questions, I do mean even one that might be cringe-inducing if it came from an adult. Most of the questions often center around my wheelchair or why I cannot walk. Whatever the question, the answer should be age-appropriate and as simple as possible.

Changing the way people react to the disabled community

Some in the disabled community argue that we should not have to be the ones to make this extra effort as we are human after all. What should be and what is are not the same.

And if we want what should be to happen, we have to change what is. The goal I am trying to accomplish with this approach, both for children and adults, is to reduce the discomfort the non-disabled initially feel around us because we are different.

It is my hope that this plan of attack will eventually not be necessary. And during my lifetime, it has become better. But I feel the more interaction we have with people, the less strange we will seem to everyone else.

Combating loneliness with this approach

Responding with, “Why are you staring?” does not improve the other person's comfort level. It only makes them more reluctant to interact with others like us.

This reluctance to interact is one reason I feel many of us suffer from loneliness.

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