Friday, January 31, 2014

Boogie Boarding

I had asked for a bit of help in a store. Now I hadn't asked for help because I'm disabled and I need extra help. In fact my disability had nothing to do with the request. I'd asked for help because I wanted to by a Boogie Board and it was in a display cabinet that needed to be unlocked. The woman I'd asked for help said she'd send someone over to help me.

A few moments later I heard a fellow say, "Oh, the wheelchair bound guy, yeah I saw him." Then round the corner came a young man, probably still in high school, strolling towards me. Now, I gotta tell you that I hate the term 'wheelchair bound' ... really hate it. Here I am in a city far from home, in a store on my own zipping around shopping and I'm bound. The only time when 'wheelchair' and 'bound' should be side by side is in an sentence something like this 'that guy in the wheelchair's bound for glory.' Other than that, shut up.

When he catches up to me, before he can ask how he can help, I say, "I heard you refer to me as 'wheelchair bound,' I want you to know that's really not how people who use wheelchair's like to be described. Just say 'wheelchair user' and you'll be good to go." Then I started to ask for help with the Boogie Board. As he was getting it for me, he started to argue with me. He told me that he's always used 'wheelchair bound' and justified it by saying his grandmother was 'in a chair' and she says that she's wheelchair bound so therefore it's OK. There was a bit of petulance in his voice, I could suddenly really see that he's still just a kid.

"Your grandmother can call it what ever she wants, she's earned that right. However, times change, trust me when I say most people in wheelchairs prefer 'wheelchair user.'" He shook his head, stubbornly, "everyone I know says 'wheelchair bound,' I don't see why I should have to change what I say." A woman, finely dressed, had stopped and listened to the conversation. She shook her head when we were talking.

I had that feeling that I have sometimes when I get in these conversations, which happen depressingly often, that I wish I'd just let it go.

But then she spoke up, "If the man wants you to use the term 'wheelchair user,' I'd use it if I were you." He looked at her startled by her interruptions. "It's good manners to refer to people as they choose to be referred to, and, it seems to me that this fellow just may know what he's talking about. You are young enough to be flexible, so be flexible. You don't want to be stuck in your ways at your age. Trust me, I know."

I could see that he felt ganged up on, "OK," he said like a 6 year old who'd been chastised, "wheelchair user then." I smiled and said, "Listen what she said to you was way more important than what I said to you, but thanks for using the right words." Finally he smiled, "My whole family is stubborn, but 'stuck in their ways' might be a better way of putting it."

I bought my Boogie Board.


Tamara said...

I love both pieces of advice, but her's was way more important. I think you need to carry around a little card that says - You may have just inspired a blog! Check out for a few days and see if you're featured! :-)

Anonymous said...

It takes a lot of fortitude to not let a teachable moment go by, especially when it takes so much time and effort. Your decision to spend your time, talent and energy is something I admire very much. Perhaps you have not only given him the chance to grow but planted a seed that may affect his "whole set in their ways" family.

Anonymous said...

OK< Dave for a minute I thought you were going to explain how you were going to use the Boogie Board! Good advice, I hope the fellow heard it.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how you would have felt if the woman had said something to YOU like "he is young, have some flexibility, he'll learn. I'm sure he meant no disrespect". In your own words he felt ganged up on. Then YOU would have felt ganged up on. But that was ok because he eventually gave in/agreed with you(?). The right words? That is your opinion. You have every right to convey what you are comfortable with and what you wish to be addressed as, yet he has a right to say what he is comfortable with. You hate the saying. He doesn't. It wasn't wrong, just different.

WCguy said...

To Anon

It isn't just David's opinion that the use of wheelchair bound is offensive to those of us who use wheelchairs. Wheelchair user is a much more acceptable term. I have been in a wheelchair for much longer than David has and I can tell you that not one person with a disability who uses a wheelchair likes the term wheelchair bound. Except maybe this guys grandmother.

Susan said...

I just googled Boogie Board and now I want one too. :)