Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Chair Woman

I was in my power chair, my manual was parked beside it. On the back of the manual was my wheelchair bag and we'd placed our 'keep everything cold' bag on the chair's seat. We always take my manual chair when we go to a place like the 'EX' because it carries things and it's always an extra seat for Joe, whose feet get tired, or the kids, who find it easier to wait while sitting in it and chatting. They are the only three people who have ever sat in that chair, the only three people who have permission to sit in the chair. It's my chair.

I think a lot of other wheelchair users have unique relationships with their chairs. I treat mine with respect, I look at it, sometimes, with wonder, its power to make me free, to let me go places, to allow me to work and travel. I feel possessive of it, in the same way I feel possessive about other personal items of mine. They are mine.

I'm not good with strangers putting their hands on my wheelchair handles without my permission, which I never give. Touching my chair is like touching me. If I don't know you, don't presume. I know to you it's an object but it's much more than an object to me.

All of this to say, I really pissed off a woman at the 'EX' while I was in my power chair with the manual parked beside it. The girls and Joe were on a ride together and I was watching them on it. I probably had this big sloppy grin on my face because I loved watching the kids have fun, but it was even more fun to watch Joe alternate between laughing and sheer terror. Then a woman came along side me, pushed the bag on the manual chair's seat back and began to sit down. I said immediately, "You can't sit there!" She stood up, looking to me for explanation. "The chair doesn't belong to the CNE," I said because you can get a chair at the park, "it's my personal chair."

This didn't register with her and she began to sit down again and I said more forcefully, "It's my chair, please don't sit in it!!" Now she was angry. "No one is using it right now," she said angrily. "I understand, but it's my chair, I'm sorry, it's not for public use." She called me selfish, she threw 'fat' and 'lazy' in there for good measure but I didn't care. It's my chair. It's very personal to me. I wouldn't lend her my pants or my underwear even if they weren't presently being used, so I'm not letting her use my chair.

For a long while after I questioned myself about what I'd done. Was I selfish? Was I churlish? I don't know. But I've decided I'm allowed to feel about my chair what I feel about my chair. I don't have to explain it to a random non disabled person who sees my chair as simply an object to be used.

The social aspects of disability. Sheesh, no one gives you a guidebook.


Anonymous said...

I don't think you need to worry about whether you were selfish when dealing with someone who calls names. Why would you want to share anything with someone like that? Revealing herself to be that person after you'd told her it was a personal belonging doesn't change anything.

How would this be different from, say, sitting at a banquet table and telling her the seat next to you was taken? Polite people don't take it anyhow. And the fact that there was a bag on the chair simply reinforced your point--that chair was not available to her.

L said...

I think you were being perfectly reasonable.

Wheelchairs/mobility scooters are not public property, even if the wheelchair user is not in them right that minute.

The Shorter Bloggess said...

I think you made the right choice, I think she showed entitled behaviour from the start of the interaction.

She moved your bag without asking. It's common courtesy that if you see a bag or a coat or scarf or something on a chair you ask the nearest person whether or not the seat is taken. It's a commonly accepted way of indicating that a seat is taken. You don't just move it without asking. What if the chair had belonged to a friend of yours who was away for a moment?

So I think she was in the wrong before you even got to the part where you told her it was your chair.

Unknown said...

I have this fear because I have a minor operation upcoming, which will have me in hospy for 1-5 days. What if someone (staff or patient) walks off with My Chair thinking it belongs to the hospital? What if I'm asleep or in a procedure and not available to stop them?

I want to cover it with rainbow ribbons and a dayglo cushion, and perhaps an alarm device, just to protect My Chair from being stolen.

All this is to say that, no, you were not being selfish. That is Your Chair. It wouldn't have been selfish if she'd been ever so polite about it and not name-called or moved things, and only asked nicely if she could use it, and you had refused. Your Chair.

Melissa said...

Nope. Would she allow someone she didn't know to sit on her lap? Ridiculous.

Rosemary said...

First off, she moved your bag off of the chair!?!? Who does that? People should ask first before moving bags and sitting in a chair that is not there's. The owner of the chair gets to decide if someone may or may not use their chair. It is their right, and they are not selfish if they do not want to have someone else sit on it.

Girl on wheels said...

I don't understand why so many Able-Bodied people have a problem with the concept that our wheelchairs are part of our bodies. Therefore you do not touch it without consent, much like you wouldn't touch someone's body without their consent. It's very simple but even when that is explained to them they just won't have it.

Last time I was in hospital I had several members of staff try to guilt me into letting an elderly patient use MY wheelchair to go off ward with her family. They told me that there wasn't a hospital wheelchair available and that it would be so nice if the lady could go have a cup of tea in the cafe with her family. They didn't seem to understand that they were trying to taking away my ability to move, that if I gave my permission I would be stuck in my bed until the family deigned to come back - unable to go to the bathroom or anywhere else. They were extremely upset when I said no, even told me that they had already told a family member it was ok! I told them they had no right to do that and they should go explain to the family that they had got their hopes up for nothing. Five minutes later a member of the family came and tried to guilt me further, but I was firm and explained that it was MY wheelchair and I needed it. I also told them that the staff of the ward had no right to give their permission for someone to use MY wheelchair. The next day I was woken up by a staff member trying to stealthily wheel my chair away, she was extremely flustered by being caught and was unable to give me an explanation for what she was doing. That afternoon my partner brought in a bike lock and my chair was locked to my bed for the rest of the stay. The staff tried to force me to unlock it, but I said since someone had already tried to steal it I wasn't taking any chances.

Namaste said...

Dave, I'm disappointed. This was the perfect opportunity to unleash a tantrum from your inner-child and you acted all adult and civilized. Next time, make the biggest scene you can. I'd like to resurrect the formerly accepted practice of calling out people's abhorrent behaviour. Since protest falls on deaf ears, embarrassment may have hit home! Just a thought.

MoonDog said...

someone was rude. it wasn't you. How dare that woman presume she could just help herself to something that doesn't belong to her! I have 2 kids who use chairs and I do not allow even my other children to sit in them. it is THEIR CHAIR. its their legs. its their freedom. its their gateway to the world. its THEIRS! I did promise if one of them breaks their neck doing something stupid I would buy them their very own chair(god forbid) but I do not let them sit in, roll in, try out, or otherwise touch the wheelchairs. I can not imagine sitting down in someones chair without asking! its not like its a park bench!

Unknown said...

WOW... I'm astonished that she thought YOU were wrong to say "no" to her wanting to use your chair!!! My son has allowed his sister, and friends, to sit in his chair, to try pop-a-wheelies, etc.... but it's been HIS choice and I can't even imagine anyone just deciding that his chair was a free-for-all. What an incredibly rude and presumptuous woman!!!

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Girl on Wheels, your story is horrifying, it's awful that people were so persistent in trying to guilt you into loaning out your legs/mobility/freedom. How do they not have a hospital wheelchair available!? They *should* have them for longer term patients ready for a break from their ward. They should certainly not be trying to seize the personal property of other patients for the purpose! I don't blame you for locking the wheelchair to your bed.