Saturday, August 16, 2014

Force Field Follies

I was going north.

They were coming south.

Two people in big scooters accompanied by one spritely person using a cane. They were talking and laughing. The looked up and saw me, in my big power wheelchair, Joe beside me. I could almost hear ballet music as everyone moved smoothly into place. Talking and laughing continues. Everyone nods a greeting. Thanks are said.

We passed by each other with lots of room to spare.

No fuss.

No drama.


Moments later, on the same sidewalk, a young woman sees Joe and I coming towards her. She panics.
Stops walking. Pushes herself against the wall in a giant show of I AM GETTING OUT OF YOUR WAY BECAUSE I FEAR BEING CRUSHED UNDER YOUR WHEELCHAIR. I pass by her with about three feet to spare.  She sprints away.

Next up on our journey home, was a woman sitting on her walker, clearly tired. She had parked next to a building, gathering her breath. Joe and I passed by her, beside each other, with plenty of room. She called out to me, 'I need one of those.' I called back that she should definitely get one. Really pleasant.

A fellow, slightly wider than a blade of grass, notices us coming toward him. He darts into a store doorway to give us room to pass. I'm sorry but him and an army of his friends could have passed by us with lots of room to spare. I glance over at him and he's even pulled his shopping bags up and out of the way and he's at least four feet away from met. I think he misunderstand my glance so he smiles a I GOT OUT OF YOUR WAY AND I AM MAKING LOTS OF ROOM FOR YOU smile.


I chatted with someone I know who also uses a wheelchair. His chair is much smaller than mine, he tells me that sometimes it seems like his chair has a force field around it that pushes people against walls and into alleys when he passes by. "I don't get it," he said, "but I see actual fear in their eyes, like I'm going to go rogue and mow them down."

"I'll bet you think about it," I said.

I'll let you guess his answer.


Mary said...

A mildly amusing experiment, if you're not in a rush or on a very busy street, is to pull to the side yourself, pop the brakes on, and with a big smile and wave of hands indicate that you are actually stopping for a moment (perhaps to consult a shopping list or answer your phone) and they should continue on past.

Some people manage to stroll past in fairly relaxed fashion once I'm stationary. I think the bit that worries them is simply not being able to predict the movement of a chair user in the way that they can predict the movement of a walking person.

Other people, that force field persists. Some step down into the road, others *literally* hold their shopping bags above their head and cautiously step along Scooby-Doo style as if coming too close will trigger an explosion.

Anonymous said...

I do this somewhat with wheelie bins and lamp-posts, as well as with people: I never really know how much space I take up, except when I bang into someone. I hope I don't do it multiply with people using mobility equipment, but if I do, I'm sorry!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to disagree with you on this. I appreciate when others take the time and effort to get out of my way. Yes, I realize they are overdoing it but not everyone has a good perspective (thus dents on cars). I'd rather they error on the side of precaution. You are operating machinery, which sometimes does have a mind of its own. I rather look at their "minding" as a sign of respect than "terror". As a walker I used to give those in a chair wide berth. Not because they couldn't make it by with careful negotiation, but to give them freedom to move. Not all chair users are physically able to control their chairs at all times with precision, or perhaps it is a new chair or scooter. There are so many factors that come into play. I certainly understand the walker being cautious. Who hasn't been hit in the heels by a shopping cart? I am only responsible for how I act/react. I choose to look at them with gracious appreciation. (Think back to some grocery store antics you've had to put up with where folks did not respect your space.) If others want to be dramatic, so be it. Me, I tootle along enjoying my freedom and space.

Kristine said...

It makes me really uncomfortable when people leap out of my way like that. It's one thing to politely take a step further out and allow a little excess "just in case" space. It's something else to do the wide-eyed gasp and dive into the trenches. Makes me feel like some kind of a monster... and I assure you, I don't have an intimidating presence! There's nothing to be scared of! It's especially bad when people teach their kids to respond that way to wheelchairs.

I'm not sure if chair users have a remarkably good spacial sense, or the able-bodied just have a really bad one... But my friend always comments on my superpower for knowing when somebody is passing behind me and needs me to scooch forward. I don't really consciously think about these things; I just always know exactly how much space is needed, whether it's for myself or someone else.

B. said...

Thanks, Dave,- good laugh. I am often entertained to see people scurry out of what they think is my way.

Ettina said...

While many wheelchair users have good control, I have seen some (especially those with impaired arm/hand movement) who tend to jerk and swerve in their motor wheelchair. Not knowing ahead of time which category someone falls into, I'd rather err or the side of getting well out of the way.

On the other hand, if they're in a manual chair out in public, they probably have good enough control not to run over my feet.