During my summer holiday in Berlin, I met an old woman on a bus who had the biggest ‘don’t give a damn’ powerchair I’ve ever seen. The wheels were epic & she literally forced people out of her way with her confidence, and attitude. Most amazing to me, she had absolutely no fear of taking up space.
At 4ft 9, I’m pretty used to not taking up space, so sitting in a wheelchair never felt that strange to me. I’m pretty used to everyone looking down on me all the time (le sigh). But I know for some of my taller pals with chronic illness, suddenly being physically lower than everyone has been a real challenge. If anything, I take up more space than I used to now.
Whenever we used to go out using my manual chair, I was constantly apologising for getting in the way. I even apologised to able-bodied people in disabled spaces for making them move. I know, right?
As much as the wheelchair was amazing and helpful and meant I could go out more, I always felt like a big bulky inconvenience. I’m more used to people knocking into me because they can’t see me!
It also doesn’t really help when so much access stuff necessitates you being made the centre of attention, even when you’re just trying to do the same as everyone else – be that beeping noises and the slow drop of the bus to pull down the ramp, or using special entrances or moving people out of the way.
Getting a powerchair and some confidence changed that. I have always found walking so hard and painful, so was always THE SLOWEST PERSON to try and go out with. For the first time in my life I AM SO SPEEDY YAY. For the first time in my life, I feel SAFE to be out around people and not terrified that one knock or rude, selfish, arrogant person (I’m not projecting…), can injure me for months.
At first, even with my Lil’ Rascal, I apologised. After all, it was a different experience to be visibly disabled, and I was finding my way. But that lady in Berlin, and a little bit of time, helped me to remind myself that this is not my fault. I need my chair to live my life. At the end of the day, the world is not really built for me to get around in, so I’ma make the best of what I can when I’m out and not feel guilty at all for taking up space, requesting people who are able to move to move, or ask people for help if I need it.
That being said, it still baffles me how people just watch me struggling with doors and don’t offer to help.
Now, un-crowded places, you will often find me forging a path singing “get the f*** out of my way” like a Disney princess. Because I deserve to be there too.