Top 5 Things To know about Wheelchair Users

By Arpita Bhawal

There are millions of wheelchair users all over the world, and as we know, the ratio is higher in under-developed and developing countries than the developed ones. But one thing remains the same across borders and continents: the indominable spirit of wheelchair users! The reason we know this is by the sheer facts that are in front of us every day, some of which we may even not notice in quickly. 

Here are the top 5 things you have to know about wheelchair users which will convince you about two things: you don’t need to feel uncomfortable about their lifestyle or situation, and you don’t need to assume they are all miserable and immobile. 

  1. They can TRAVEL a lot! 

Shocked? Well, you need not be. It is well-known and documented that some of the active wheelchair users around the world travel a lot – a lot more than you and I. They can not only fly a plane, they can travel the world alone in a wheelchair, what people without disability cannot do at times! Is it a miracle or a fluke? It is neither, in our view. It is about the indominable human spirit that wants freedom, movement, inclusivity and action! Though traveling all over the world in a wheelchair can have many unique challenges, the noteworthy fact is that in pursuit of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, people can overcome everything if they want to, and we have a lot to learn from them. 

  1. They are not afraid to DRIVE!

There was a time when we believed that driving required everyone to have very stable hands and firm, active feet with movement in them. Yet, now hundreds of people in wheelchairs drive every single day – to work, or to the neighbour’s house, or to a watch a movie. They can easily use all the hand controls, and they are enabled effectively by transfer driver’s seats and lock-in devices that come with power wheelchairs. Assistive technology is a wheelchair user’s best friend, and using a variety of assistive devices, any wheelchair user can drive independently and effortlessly. In the digital age, the wheelchair is evolving rapidly with massive scope for personalization, customization, AI-based Voice Capabilities, active or standing formats, and a lot more. 

  1. They go to work! 

It is hardly surprising that wheelchair users go to work…in their wheelchairs without fuss. They hold full-time jobs and have positions of importance today in a variety of departments across organizations that have a strong inclusivity policy. Most users apply their upper body to work as effectively any person that’s standing on his or her feet. Whether it is in an office, or a retail counter of a store, or even in top positions in MNCs, wheelchair users are working with assistive technologies that help them use their faculties as well as others. Many of them even are consultants to large companies. While there are at times minor challenges of mobility in some areas of the office or during commute, most of the time, users have no challenge at all, and at times, they work around it intuitively to work unhindered. 

  1. They treat their chairs are extensions of their bodies!

To people who don’t use wheelchairs, they see the chair as a separate device with wheels attached in which a person would sit if required, and rush in to help the user by pushing the chair or guiding it like a missile launched on a target! However, the truth is that all wheelchair users begin to see their wheelchairs as an intrinsic part of their bodies, and they don’t need guiding or navigating support. They know their wheelchair as well as they know their own hand, and they can perceive every action, vibration, tilt, bump and halt as they would on the chair as they would for their own body or if they were walking on their feet. All users develop and have a fine sense of location and balance, and can perfectly manoeuvre themselves without our help. In fact, we must never disorient their sense of navigation or direction by trying to handle their wheelchairs. We won’t do that to anyone and they don’t do it to us, so we must also not do that to wheelchair users. 

  1. They make up for lack of physical power with brain power!

Not every wheelchair user is in a wheelchair for the same disease or physical ailment. There could be any number of reasons for which they are using wheelchairs. The first thing to know is that just because a person is in a wheelchair, the person is not dumb or numb. The person may lack physical strength because of the health condition, but he or she definitely would make up with brain power! In fact, if we go down history, we will see that some of the most intelligent, talented and brilliant people have been users of wheelchairs. Some users could have a speech impediment based on their diagnosis, but many others may be able to speak, sing, read, write and even dance with their upper body…while sitting in a wheelchair. Don’t ever assume that a wheelchair user is lacking in intelligence or knowledge or ideas, or can’t really do anything in life. 

So, the next time you see someone in a wheelchair, don’t look away or stand back in awe, or feel pity for the person. Smile, say hello, and if you want to speak to them, sit down on your haunches, exchange words while looking directly into their eyes, and treat them as you would treat anyone else who is not in a wheelchair. Wheelchair users are just like you and me…they are real people and inhabit the same world, and they want to be as active, happy and productive as we want to be.

Remember, using a wheelchair = freedom to a user. 

Let’s learn to respect that.