Disability 101: ‘No, I don’t want you to push me’
November 21, 2007
I’m a local, 45-year-old woman disabled from multiple sclerosis. It has been my experience that there are some able-bodied people in this county who could use an opportunity to learn more about interacting with the disabled population. Many people think they know what the disabled need and want, but they haven’t taken the time to really get to know us. They interact with the disability, not with the person.
I can’t claim to speak for all people with disabilities. We’re all different, just as able-bodied people are all different from each other. But I would like to share my experience with you. We’ll call our class Disability 101.
Our first lesson involves a woman I met in the Dillon City Market parking lot last Monday who wanted to push me. I was in my wheelchair. I’m not always in my wheelchair. It depends on if I’m having a good day or a bad day and how far I need to go. But Monday, I was in my wheelchair.
I had taken my wheelchair out of the back of my Subaru, plopped myself into it, and paused to organize myself for my shopping at City Market. Along comes a woman who asks if she can push me. I look at her, smile, and say, “No, thank you. I’m fine.” Then we go our separate ways.
I know she’s just trying to be helpful. I know she’s just trying to be nice. She doesn’t know that I get that question on a constant basis.
She doesn’t know I’m an athlete. She doesn’t know that I’ve handcycled up Vail Pass multiple times and that I mono-ski (sit-ski) the blacks on Peak 10 at Breckenridge. She doesn’t know that if she arm-wrestled me I’d beat her in about two seconds because my biceps are huge for a “girl”.
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She doesn’t know the thoughts and feelings that flood through me as a result of her question.
I’m wondering if I look helpless. Do I look like I’m incapable of pushing myself over smooth, dry asphalt? I mean, what would I be doing by myself in the parking lot at City Market if I was unable to push myself in my own wheelchair? If I were incapable of pushing myself, I would either be using a power wheelchair or I’d be with a companion who would be taking care of me.
I know I shouldn’t feel irritated. At least she asked first and accepted my answer.
I’ve had other times when people start pushing me without asking. It is the ultimate in rudeness to start pushing me without allowing me the opportunity to choose. Just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to choose.
At other times I’ve had people ask me if they can push me but when I say, “No, thank you. I’m fine,” they get angry at me for not allowing them to do so. Apparently they want to do their good deed for the day and I’m not cooperating. They actually get mad at me for not accepting help I don’t need.
There are a few times I might be struggling with my wheelchair a little. Maybe in the snow. Maybe going up a hill. I’ve only had this wheelchair for the last year and a half, and I’m not in it every day. But I want to struggle and I want to conquer. The more I do it, the better I get, the stronger I become, the more confident I become, the more independent I become. That’s what I want for myself. I want time and encouragement to do it myself.
So I would ask that the next time you see me in the City Market parking lot, instead of approaching me and asking if you can push me, approach me and comment on what a gorgeous day it is with the sun shining. Groan and moan with me about the remodeling work going on in the store. In other words, treat me like a regular person, because I am a regular person. Interact with me, instead of interacting with my disability.
Then, while we’re chatting and shooting the breeze, if I need anything, I’ll ask you. And I will then be grateful for your help. If I don’t ask you for anything, I’m fine. However, you may have some difficulty keeping up with me while I spin around the aisles in the store. Is there a speed limit?