Fraud in a wheelchair

Blue has a post up that deals with expectations about people in wheelchairs. Here’s her description of a “humorous” video:

So here’s some YouTube video of a Brazilian Candid-Camera-type show where pranks are pulled on unsuspecting passersby. This five-and-a-half minute clip shows a man in a clunky manual wheelchair at the corner of a busy urban intersection. After enlisting someone to help push him across the street, the man stages a tumble out of his chair in the middle of the crosswalk. People rush to help, dragging him fully across the street and attempting to help him into the chair again. At that point the man stands up on his own, revealing that the whole drama and his disability are a prank. Over and over again, throughout the clip, these tricked pedestrians turn violent with the actor, and several times he runs to avoid real injury and assault.

Blue later says:

I can’t help wondering how someone with legitimate impairments would be treated in the exact same situation, given that we sometimes get assistance thrust upon us unwanted, and given that not all people in wheelchairs are completely unable to stand or even walk.

This is a timely post for me. At this point, due to my limited ability to walk, I’m virtually apartment-bound. I can stand, and I can walk for short distances. But those distances add up-my body remembers how much walking I’ve done on a given day. If I do too much, I will pay for it in pain, exhaustion, and less ability to do anything for days. J has the day off work on Monday, and had just about talked me into going somewhere that would require a lot of walking. I’d have to use a wheelchair, and I don’t know if I can do it.

Most of my guilt surrounds those who use wheelchairs and who cannot move like I can. Who am I to be using a wheelchair when they must use one? But Blue’s post brings up another worry: who am I to use a wheelchair when doing so may hurt people who are obligated to use wheelchairs? When I need something, I can stand up. If my partner needs a break, I can walk for a bit. When people see that, aren’t they going to make assumptions about all people with disabilities? Those assumptions won’t be positive.

Update: wording changed to give the impression my head isn’t shoved up my butt


24 responses to “Fraud in a wheelchair

  1. Hey there…I think you ought to do what you need to do so you can do what you want to do. People have the right to get out and about to the best of their ability! I have known women with MS who used wheelchairs intermittently, and yes, people DO make obnoxious assumptions, and I guess I just figure, well, the universe will take care of them someday, maybe they’ll see the error of their ways. When I think about the things Cress put up with in order to go places that weren’t accessible–well. Sometimes having a little bit of fun is more important. I just hope no one is mean to you, I will come up there and kick their ass!

  2. “When people see that, aren’t they going to make assumptions about all people with disabilities?”

    SE, people make assumptions when they are too lazy to observe and learn. If their laziness influences your life decisions, you’ve compromised the quality of your own life, and they remain lazy observers.

    You do what you need, that’s all. In the meantime, educate friends and colleagues around you, and think of some snappy comebacks. You may not use them, but they are a confidence-builder.

    My son is legally, but not totally blind – a hidden disability. He started to let comments from kids in class keep him from getting his homework and his grades suffered immensely for it last semester.

    What it came down to was that when he went up to copy from the overhead the same homework assignements that the other kids could see fine projected on the screen, they would say he’s in their way, and that he really doesn’t have a vision problem, etc. He’s very sensitive to things, and just decided on his own to not get up any more, and thus no longer get his somework assignments. He didn’t tell his teacher because he didn’t want to be a burden, different, feel like he was getting special treatment, etc.

    What I said to him (in a nutshell): You are not getting anything more than anyone else. These accomodations allow you to get the same material and opportunity to learn. Nothing more. The only one truly stopping you from the education you have a right to is you. Not the teacher, not the students no one.

    Then we worked on comebacks, which I think is what really drove it home. Things like “I’d be happy to trade eyes with you” and silly stuff that just got us laughing at the _ridiculousness_ of it all. Because deep down, what it comes to is just _what_ is he denying someone else by sitting closer, or copying notes off a sheet the teacher gives him instead of the board, or using a monocular? Nothing! His only “crime” is that he stands out from the herd a little bit. OMIGAWD! The herd has been compromised!

    Yes, I sometimes wonder if he were completely blind, if he would be instantly accomodated (or rather over-accomodated) by all.

    Which leads to the comback that really had his eyes rolling: Would _you_ be more comfortable if I could see nothing at all?

    Same goes for the wheelchair. Tell ’em you have just enough energy to get up out of it and kick their ass before you have to sit back down again!

    Or just imagine saying it and have a giggle about it. 😉

  3. Spotted Elephant: For me anytime I start to worry about what other people might think about my body or how I do things or what I do or let others or equipment do for me, I’m heading down a slippery slope where my body doesn’t belong to me and instead is an instrument to not cause other people distress. You can’t live that way, and while it takes some work to resist those impulses, imo, you cannot let that mindset affect your behavior.

    This is actually what “disability pride” is about for me, though others have different ideas and the concept is generally misunderstood. That pride is the ability (or discipline) of holding your head up and saying “This is how my body works. Deal with it, or embrace it, but get out of my way”

  4. “Most of my guilt surrounds those who use a wheelchiar and who cannot move like I can. Who am I to be …”
    I am with you there SE, every day, in every way.
    Blown away by the gasps of people when I stand up from the wheelchair to put my coat on, when I have spent the entire evening being the object of their fantasies of what being wheelchair bound means for the practicalities of life, peeing, eating, sex,cooking.
    Goodnes, but its ridiculous. And it took me the first five of the last eight years of wheelchair use, to get over it, correction, to begin to use strategies to get over it.

  5. Amy-You’ve given me this excellent advice before, and I went and forgot it. Thanks for the reminder!

    manxome-Thanks for commenting. Hearing how you and your son coped with his invisible disability helps a lot.

    Kay-Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.

    “This is how my body works. Deal with it, or embrace it, but get out of my way”

    That’s really what it’s about. If I keep worrying about all of those “what ifs”, I’m never going to leave these 4 walls. I *don’t* want to make things worse for others with a disability, but I guess that’s not something I control!

    Sally-I’ll be thinking of what you said when I catch myself obsessing over others’ reactions. This isn’t something that goes away fast. It would make a tremendous difference if the general public was educated, but I guess we’re working on that, too.

    Thank you all so much for commenting, this has been eating away at me. I’m so anxious to get out again, but was really feeling like I alone could ruin things for people with disabilities.

  6. Oh my dear, we all KNOW that if you actually had that power, you would use it for GOOD.


  7. (((Spotted Ele))) You must be one of the most considerate people in the world, to worry that you might somehow hurt people who use wheelchairs by intermittently using one yourself. I say that anyone whose opinion is worth a flying fig would be happy that you haven’t given up your ability to be out in the world, enjoying your life. If you do decide to go, I hope you have a wonderful time.

  8. SE, I know many people who are using a wheelchair because they cannot walk long distances and then get off to walk into a shop. Deserted wheelchairs in front of Cafés, shops, hairdressers, etc. are quite a common sight. Just when I was reading your post a friend of mine called, who is a permanent wheelchair user. She said that if she observed someone getting off his/her wheelchair to walk a bit, she couldn’t be bothered less.
    When I went to school, we used to have “partner form” from a school for physically disabled children. We met very often and also went on school parties together, staying at youth hostels in which we had to prepare our own breakfast for instance. On one of these trips the bakery was quite far away and on the second day the wheelchair useres complainted about us “walkies” being too slow. They demanded that we should be using one of the spare wheelchairs in order to be able to catch up with them. So we did and ever since I have regarded a wheelchair more as a mean of transportation like bikes, inline skates, skateboards and that like, than an indication of a disability or a certain proof that it’s user is not able to walk at all.. I remember that once when I got out of the wheelchair to enter the bakery walking on my own, a women came up to me, saying: “You know what? If you pretend being disabled than you will get a disability yourself later on!” A split of a second later my disabled class mate snapped back:” So what?! Anything wrong with that?!”
    I think you should get every opportunity to get out of the appartment and to enjoy life as much as possible. If that includes using a wheelchair – do it. If you feel like walking a bit – do it. It is your life.

  9. Go for it! You know what to do. I’m desperate to hear of your adventures!

  10. It’s quite funny; when I first used a wheelchair, about ten years ago, I had these same anxieties.

    The very first thing that happened when I finally submitted to using a wheelchair was that it was so great to get out and about that I stopped caring what others think.

    The second thing that happened was that I realised my impairment is no better or worse than those who cannot walk at all. Some of those folks are not in tremendous pain, for example, some of them are not exhausted all the time. One cannot have a competition, but that’s the point – there is no competition.

    However, another odd thing happened. In the last ten years in the UK, as disability equality has moved forward at a pace, I get fewer looks and it is fairly commonplace for large shops to have courtesy wheelchairs for folks who can only walk a short distance and do not have their own chair.

    Not being housebound is so basic to your mental health, let alone anything else. If you need a wheelchair to get out, then you need a wheelchair.

    Even so, sympathy with this being a difficult time, and best of luck with resolving this in your own mind.

  11. I think people using wheelchairs “part time” are more common than would probably be first thought. When I was nursing, many people required a wheel chair on a non-permanent basis. You know I had never thought of this before!
    In addition – my mother who had RE would sometimes loan (loaned out in many shopping complexes) a chair for us to do a shopping marathon. Of course, she would be able to get up and browse about some of the time but it would have been impossible to do a full shopping expedition!

  12. Sorry that should be RA

  13. If people don’t get that other people need some accommodating sometimes, they have a lack of love or compassion or something. We all need to do what we can to make life easier for one another, and in my book judging people who aren’t disabled “enough” just stinks.

    You are a sweet and sensitive spirit.

  14. Amy-Well, I hope so. 😉

    Beansa-You’re right-there’s opinions that matter and those that don’t.

    bloggingmone-Thanks for sharing that story. A wheelchair *is* a mode of transport (the image of all the abandoned wheelchairs outside the shops brings a smile to my face), not some political symbol. I really do need to get out.

    Pippa-OK, but you may hear in nauseating detail!

    Goldfish-I’m sorry you had to go through the process, but I do find it comforting that you had the same struggles-it makes it feel more like a process of learning instead of me being obsessive about the whole thing.

    And thanks for the reminder that there’s no competition. I don’t have a problem remembering that when someone else belittles my condition, it’s just a problem when *I* do it. Thanks for the advice and the support.

    Sparkle-Your experience would show lots of temporary use of wheelchairs, wouldn’t it? Your mom’s situation sounds very much like mine, except that I’m not getting out for the reason you stated.

    Suebob-So many people don’t stop to think, but that is their problem, not mine.

    Thank you for the compliment! When I was growing up, “sensitive” was definitely a fault. 🙂

  15. The only people that have not been able to deal with my not-very-gradual and not 100% of the time transition to chair and scooter use is my immediate family…there is weeping and gnashing of teeth…so one of the reasons I stay 1300 miles away…

  16. imfunny2-I stay a couple thousand miles away from my family due to their inability to handle, well, anything! I’m glad you’ve had good results outside your family.

  17. This rings so true for me. I’ve blogged quite a bit about my experiences as a new scooter user, and about how different life is when you are suddenly visibly disabled. No, I still haven’t gotten used to it, but as somebody said further up, being able to get out of the house and have a real life makes it easier for me to ignore any misgivings I might have. And I just basically don’t look at the poeple around me, except to make sure I don’t run them over, so I don’t know if they’re looking at me funny or not.

    And for me there’s the whole fat thing; I keep worrying that people are going to assume that my fatness is my disability, instead of a side affect of disability and loss of mobility. But again, that’s my issue to work through and learn how to deal with.

    I wish you could come to Wisconsin; we’d get out there and wheel our way all over the place, all dashing and gorgeous like we should be 🙂

  18. Welcome, Kactus! I’ve read some of your posts about going out on the scooter, about meeting teachers where the building wasn’t accessible (oh, that’s just so wrong). I used a wheelchair for the first time today and will have to blog about it-nothing awful happened! 🙂

    Yeah-adding the way people treat fat people to the way they treat pwd is almost too much to think about. I’m fat too, and I think that ties into my worry that people will think I’m using the chair because I’m lazy. Typing that out, I know it’s pathological (for me to think that), but then, I know how people judge.

    It is too bad I’m not in Wisconsnin. I lived in Madison for a few years, but now live near Seattle. I can’t imagine the confidence boost I’d get from going out with someone, plus it would be fun. Maybe we could run over someone though? Just one?

  19. Well, I’m thinking of starting an all-disabled-women gang, and calling it Scooter Mamas. You could be like my deputy general or something, and we could plot mischief and mayhem, hehe.

    I actually did have a woman say that I only wanted a scooter so I didn’t have to walk. I called her ignorant and threatened to hit her. Not the wisest reaction, perhaps, but it was the first one I could think of.

  20. Alright kactus! I’m in your gang.

    I had to laugh at your response to that woman. Maybe it wasn’t the most productive thing, but she certainly had it coming.

  21. In college my gang of wheelchair and scooter using friends thought of getting biker jackets with the name on the back “The Flying Raisinettes.” I really don’t recall where the raisinettes things came from though it was appropriately ridiculous (and mysterious — hey, folks are wondering about us anyway), but it’s true that travelling in packs completely changes the public aspect. For one thing you’re distracted, for another, there’s solidarity. Also, in groups, I do believe we scare the crap out of the bipeds.

  22. Kay-That sounds fantastic! Biker jackets with your gang’s name-and people would have wondered about The Flying Raisinettes. LOL

  23. This is going to sound odd perhaps, but many many days I see the chair/scooter as freeing.

    I worry less and less about falling, being unsteady…all this stuff that used to consume the back of my brain when I was on my feet.

    I have similar trouble to kactus in this respect…people assume I’ve succumbed to the ultimate in “lazy” because I’m also fat, nevermind that the cp and other things predated the fat.

  24. Hi, just came across your blog via links I randomly saw on

    I just wanted to say this comment thread is awesome. As a walker myself (hmm, that feels like I’m calling myself an assistive device), I’ve been agonizing over what to do about the progression of my condition. Somehow it never occurred to me that a wheelchair was even relevant to my situation at present–I guess it always seemed like a far-off, future probability.

    I might have viewed it as a dreadful, oppressive thing for this reason, but now I’m realizing how freeing it would be. It’s so weird–I’ve even stated before how I think I’d be better off if I had a wheelchair in situations where I’m on my feet too much.

    And I was right! It’s weird how you can completely miss a good idea that’s coming out of your own mouth because you only half mean it…here I actually thought it was unfair to people in wheelchairs, when in reality it was unfair to myself. I suppose it was unfair to the actual wheelchairs, too–clearly they are instruments of freedom, not oppression!

    So thanks!

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