When someone I do not trust pushes my wheelchair without asking, it creates a physical sense of intimacy that is not mutual. It’s not easy to communicate this, so I usually use this analogy: “If you wouldn’t pick up an [able-bodied] woman and hoist her over your shoulder out of the blue, you should probably ask before you push my wheelchair.” Some of these things take practice to learn, or there is an element of trust that needs to be established. For example, one incident that I remember vividly is, chasing after my nephew in my manual chair. Next thing I know, a man was behind me pushing my chair. I shrieked, being rather taken aback, and he appeared insulted. He was not aware that he just invaded my space. My wheelchair is an extension of myself. It is my freedom. It is also my personal space. For goodness sake, someone even commented on my chair and stated, “Wow, she looks a little beat up. It’s almost like you live in that thing…”
I do. I do live in this chair and in this vulnerable body. It adds a new element to physical contact. Breaking the chair barrier is a sign of how close we consider one another. A hand on the thigh is pretty much a given move. Having to burst an additional personal space bubble makes it obvious. Bonus points for the lower back, but that’s neither here nor there. This also shows me that you understand the wheelchair is a part of me, but it is not a person. We are separate in being together. Although, sometimes I do admit to exclaiming “Ouch!” when I bump my wheelchair into something…
If I’m allowing you to push me around in my manual chair, that is an example of trust and one of the highest illustrations of emotional vulnerability I have. You can roll away with me if you want to, and I can’t do much about it.
I’m constantly approached by well-meaning people offering to help me, only…they’re not offering. They’re assuming I need help because tasks take me a bit longer or I accomplish them in a different way. Now, I hear what you’re probably saying, “So…you don’t want us to help you?”
That’s not the case at all. A good rule of thumb for me is what I call the “carrying in the groceries” rule. If you see an individual struggling for a good couple of “Mississippi’s” to get the door, grab it or ask. I usually use ten “Mississippi’s” for myself. If I surpass that amount, I need to ask for help. Same thing goes for me seeing someone else in public, “Do you need help or do you got it?” Simple.
A completion of a task by myself is an exercise in power. Asking for help as opposed to having it forced upon me? Also an exercise in power. Allowing you to assist me? An example of trust in a relationship.
What I’m saying here is, give me the opportunity to accept your help by asking. Ask to touch my chair as it is an extension of my personal bubble.