Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Time I Used A Wheelchair

[in reply to this post, by a wheelchair user who's now walking a lot more]

I'm pretty sure I have undiagnosed mild hypermobility, and I can definitely relate to standing being harder than walking. I mostly deal with it by squatting whenever I'm expected to stand for a long period, which gets me odd looks sometimes but usually works well. But even squatting gets tiring if I do it too long, and often I don't want to just sit down on the floor. Plus, getting back up from squatting hurts a bit, if I do it too many times in succession.

Tours are pretty much the worst thing for my walking issues. Walking a short distance, then stopping to look at something, and then walking some more only to stop again. Even if I squat whenever I stop (if I can do that and still look at whatever I'm wanting to look at), pretty quickly I get to the point where getting back up hurts almost as much as if I'd stood the whole time. In any other situation, I can handle my mobility issues with minimal pain and no need for assistance, but when I'm doing a tour of some kind, it's really unpleasant.

In one autism scale I read, there was a question where you had to indicate whether you'd prefer to go to a museum or a theatre. It was supposed to reflect whether you're more interested in looking at things or watching people, but I chose theatre because going to a museum tends to cause me pain. Whenever I go to a museum, I have a choice of not being able to really experience what the museum has to offer, or else causing myself pain while trying to look at all of the displays. The only time this doesn't happen is when the displays are designed so I can easily enjoy staying (without standing) at one display long enough for my body to rest a bit, such as with interactive displays.

But one time, when I had to go to a museum for a class assignment, I worked up the courage to ask to use their wheelchair. It took a lot, emotionally, for me to be willing to do this, because despite all the disability acceptance stuff I've come to believe in, part of me still feels that I'm just a faker and that's a really bad thing. (I did enjoy faking disabilities as a kid, simply as a form of play, and I don't objectively think there's anything wrong with that, but my parents told me off for it and so I feel guilty about it.) I knew I had a good reason to use the wheelchair, and that the whole reason museums have borrowable wheelchairs is for people who can walk in other situations but find walking in a museum difficult or uncomfortable. I was also lucky that the person behind the counter didn't seem to think it was at all odd for a young, healthy-looking woman to walk up and ask to borrow a wheelchair.

And I'm glad I did, because that was pretty much the only museum visit I've ever had where I wasn't in pain for any of it. It's amazing how big a difference being in pain has to your enjoyment - I found myself actually being more interested in the displays and more curious about the subject matter, simply because I wasn't in pain while looking at them. It was incredible. It's not a particularly exciting museum, but I really enjoyed it anyway.

At the same time, I also noticed how strange it felt to be in a wheelchair when I'm used to walking. My legs got an odd feeling to them, like they thought they must be moving because I was going forward and couldn't understand why they weren't moving. (I got the same feeling when I first started driving, until I got used to it.) It was also strange to have trouble with a steep ramp, to be rolling backwards unintentionally while trying to look at something, and to have to fit my wheelchair into spaces instead of just my body fitting there.

People's reactions were also a surprise. There weren't many people there. But the people that were there seemed more quick to offer me help than they'd usually be, and once or twice someone tried to explain a display to me, as if I couldn't read it myself. I wasn't any different, but I could tell people saw me differently. It was the one thing I didn't like about the experience. I did get some help that was useful, but I also felt kind of uncomfortable. Part of me was afraid to stand up where the other patrons could see me, for fear they'd accuse me of faking, while another part wanted to launch into a big explanation of why I was in the wheelchair and how I usually walked instead.

I haven't used a wheelchair since then, but then, I haven't been to a museum either, or any other place where I'm expected to do a lot of starting and stopping and there are borrowable wheelchairs. But I'm thinking next time I'm in that situation, I should do it again.


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