You know how most of us use our 2 legs and feet to take us from point A to point B? Most of us are also able to stand up/sit down at will. Well some of us, like my child Dominic, can also do the same — get from point A to point B — but his 2 legs are bright green, has wheels and he always has a driver.
That’s right, we consider Dominic’s wheelchair as his “legs and feet.” Sure, he wears some really cool shoes that have perfectly clean soles. He also has stinky feet at times. But his way of getting somewhere is his wheelchair. He will ask you to put his shoes on; sometimes, it’s the first thing he requests when he wakes up. And he will often wear them all day without even leaving the house. But what he won’t ask you to do is to leave his wheelchair alone. And honestly, I haven’t mustered up the courage yet either to ask the same.
His wheelchair is also his seat where he eats his meals from, learns, and plays. It’s his seat on his school bus, at his desk, at church, and where he watches his brother’s performances and recitals.
We consider Dominic’s wheelchair a privilege to have. We waited nearly a year for it to be approved by insurance and then assembled. It is a 45-minute drive and have a long wait at the “wheelchair clinic” to have the breaks tightened, missing screws replaced, and seat adjusted when he grows. We also take pride in cleaning it which includes hand washing its different pieces. It’s the only approved, safe seating for him that we own and who knows when he will get another one.
It truly is a privilege for our son to have something comfortable and safe for him to “walk” in and sit in. So, I just have one simple request: PLEASE EXCUSE HIS WHEELCHAIR. Please treat his chair as you would someone’s body, chair, feet. Please don’t lean on his wheelchair at a performance just so you can take a steady photo. True story. Would you want a stranger to lean on you so they can get the best angle of their photo subject?
Give him some space. Bumping into the back of his chair scares him as you are racing out of a venue to get out of the parking lot first. He can’t see you coming from behind. It’s like getting a “flat tire” when someone steps on the back of your flip flops. Don’t cut in front of him. I shouldn’t have to be nervous to push him through a small crowd for fear of me running into the back of YOUR leg. Note: that can hurt.
Please give him room to roam if we are trying to get in to a restaurant because he sure loves a good happy hour. And, I’d like to think that our 7-year old is not inconveniencing you just because our family wants to enjoy a rare meal together at his favorite restaurant. Please don’t get upset if his legs or feet accidentally get in your way when trying to step over him to get where you are going. AND THE STARES HURT AND ARE NOT EASILY FORGOTTEN.
It’s okay to ask.
So lastly, it’s just a wheelchair. They are everywhere. If it catches your eye, particularly because his is bright green, and he happens to have a beautiful face and smile that you can’t take your eyes off of, you can smile back. And if you want to know why he is in a wheelchair, it’s okay with me to ask. It’s like if I asked you where you got your snazzy shoes from. Accepting that our son would be in a wheelchair was not an easy thing for me to do. The stigma and the stares were hard to swallow — they still are. So, please be mindful and respectful of wheelchairs. They are not just a means from point A to point B. They are part of who he is.