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How to be a Part Time Wheelchair User (from a Full time Vicar)

" It felt like the end of the world the first time I had to use a wheelchair in public. If I had known then what I know now, I’d have done it years earlier"
Revd Zoe Heming shares what she wishes she had been told before she started using a wheelchair. Read her fantastic uplifting, amusing and inspirational blog

Not all wheelchair users are unable to walk

It felt like the end of the world the first time I ever used a wheelchair in public. It was my straight-talking Texan friend who provided the reality check which led to this first outing. After 10 years of crippling pain & hospital admissions (long and boring story) she told me that my pride and prejudice about being seen as”a disabled person” was not a good enough reason to miss out on yet another outing with my husband & 3 kids (all under 7 at the time!).

I was outraged at the suggestion I use a wheelchair - “Don’t be ridiculous! I can’t use one of those because they are for people who can’t walk at all!”. She wasn’t having any of it. That day at Warwick Castle, I felt as embarrassingly conspicuous as if I were totally buck naked but it opened my eyes & re-opened my world, so I could join back in.

I now use a wheelchair less than half the time (& never at home) but without that option I’d be off sick a lot. If I had known then what I know now, I’d have done it years earlier.

This is what I wish someone had told me. Perhaps you or someone you know may find it useful some time.

Take what you need

#1 The phrase “wheelchair bound” is nonsense. Loads of people actually use them to selectively manage pain, energy, risk of falling etc. It doesn’t matter if other people don’t understand.

#2 There’s no such thing (I looked!) as “driving lessons” for wheelchairs or scooters. Practice somewhere you can crash/laugh/cry/swear without being in a crowd.

#3 Work out who is and isn’t allowed to push you (for me it was nobody so I got one without handles). When random people ignore “No thanks; I like the workout for my arms.” just put your brakes on until they get the message.

#4 Get “pushing gloves” - you get double the speed with half the effort & avoid friction burns in runaway slope situations!

#5 Not all wheelchairs are equal. Get the lightest, narrowest, most comfortable & practical you can afford. Look up “Active Wheelchairs” & DWP Access To Work scheme.

#6 The world is not built with wheelchairs in mind. It’s exhausting but you may be the reason that it gets a little better for others in the places you go.

#7 Explaiming “Halleluia! It’s a miracle!” is funnier than trying to offer explanations to strangers who look aghast as you stand up & throw your chair up some stairs.

#8 It gets easier to ignore pitying looks or people “heroising” you. The trade off of being able to work, browse, loiter, mooch in places you like again (art galleries, shopping centres etc.) really is worth it.

#9 You never get used to people’s intrusive medical questions but you will get better at not answering them (my go to is “Oh, that’s a long and boring story.”).

#10 Using this bit of kit to make things a bit easier for yourself will help to challenge stigma & make the world a bit more accessible for others too. This job comes with better parking.

There are genuine perks (free tickets to festivals, no queue at Alton Towers…) Enjoy them!

Zoe H