We’re Not Professor X: Why Being a Wheelchair User Doesn’t Mean Your Life is Magic and Rainbows

So I’ve encountered an interesting thing recently where people with able-bodied privilege have been going on tangents about how lucky people like me are for being mobility impaired. A lot of this stems from pure privilege, but sometimes it comes from within the disabled community. Someone who’s not mobility-impaired (often someone who is mentally ill, and angry that their illness is not treated seriously) goes on a rant about the “privilege” of being in a wheelchair.

Yes, people think this is a thing.

Yes, that is my reaction to it.

Erasing invisible illnesses or mental disabilities is not okay (and I say this as a woman who battles both). But that does not excuse being prejudiced against another minority, and no, the magical Spell of Disability does not strip you of your able-bodied privilege with respect to disabilities you do not personally suffer.

These people like to list out how incredibly lucky we wheelchair-users are, because people are so accommodating and respectful of us; everybody’s so nice to the cripples, doncha know! Except not. Because people are ableist tools, and when you’re actually in the damn chair, viewing your surroundings from half-mast, suddenly utterly unable to do so many things you always relied upon doing, you realize just how many things “normal” people take for granted.

So I’m gonna tackle some of these assumptions, because they need to not be assumed. Some of these assumptions are just purely, unequivocally ignorant, and seemingly proud of it. Others, though, are reminiscent of privileged bullshit I believed once myself, when I had the privilege of walking wherever I wanted to, and just didn’t have to think about the details of any other sort of life. Privilege, ain’t it grand?

So, let’s jump into some of the charges leveled at disabled folks, shall we?

We have “accommodations” made for us, it’s the law! Except buildings can be ADA-compliant without them being realistically accessible at all. And older buildings and smaller businesses are not held to this standard–I can’t even pick up my own Chinese food or take my dog to the groomer, and you’re telling me how lucky I am that public buildings sometimes have a button that opens the door for me? And a button able-bodied people can use, too if they want to? Logic, it is missing.

Sometimes we get to the front of the line at the amusement park. Okay, you got me, that is a seemingly legitimate thing to complain about; but those complaints are still based wholly on greedy privilege, when you consider how many other ways our lives are made harder than yours in those amusement parks to start. How about the fact that the handicapped entrance is not decorated and themed like the main one, and not as enjoyable? That it is harder and takes me longer to enter through handicap ramps than it is for you to go the normal way? That there are rides that aren’t handicap-accessible at all? Sorry I got on the roller coaster before you, but you’re the only one of us who can get on the tilt-a-whirl at all, so kindly STFU.

So much of this comes down to a simple question: Wanna trade? So let’s look at some benefit-cost scenarios, so you can answer that question.

You want that close parking space? You’ll be filling it with a limited selection of vehicles, as you now have to buy a car based on how easily your wheelchair fits in it, and how much pain is caused when you enter and exit the vehicle door.

You want the short trip from parking space to business? Shame you can’t enter the business at all, because there’s a step at the entryway, and older buildings and small businesses aren’t required to be accessible to you.

You want that button that opens the door for you? (Uh, you already have it. But maybe you think only people in wheelchairs can use it.) Okay, cool, maybe it’ll make up for all the doors inside that require you to constantly ask, “Excuse me, can you open that door for me please?”

You want the largest stall in the restroom? Enjoy trying to maneuver your chair into that stall around sharp corners in a slim walkway while able-bodied people mill about and give you no room.

You want to use the motorized cart at the grocery store? You’ll have able-bodied people leaping in front of you like Frogger and scoffing at your “excuse me”s while trying to pass them in the aisle.

You want to use the motorized cart at the superstore (Walmart, Target, etc.)? Hope you didn’t need clothes, since the aisles aren’t wide enough to steer through.

You wish you had the option to just plunk your ass in a chair during events that require you to stand? Turns out your arms get far more tired propelling yourself around as your legs do standing, and that’s if you have access to the event at all.

You want the ground-floor hotel room or apartment so you don’t have to go up the stairs? Good luck finding one that’s actually wheelchair-accessible, and not just “ground floor” (yes, there is a difference; if you don’t know it, that’s because you have the privilege not to).

You want to be “lazy” and have the freedom to ask others to run errands/perform manual labor for you? Funny how things like showering, laundry, cooking, and dressing turn into exhausting manual labor when you can’t walk.

Obviously, not all of these are direct correlations with all disabilities. Not all disabled people will have all of these problems. The point is to raise awareness of all the assumptive privileges that go unacknowledged when those without mobility impairments whine about how much better us wheelies have it. And no, I’m not making this shit up. There’s a lot more I could include, actually:

Like how about the job I had where the handicapped restrooms had doors so heavy and cumbersome that I couldn’t open them without aid? Because nothing says “privileged” liking needing help to pee!

Or what about the constant staring and how complete strangers frequently approach me and demand the details of my medical history? Because even the visibly disabled might be “faking,” so it’s really important that you stare at them until your eyes pop out so you can catch that twitch of the toe that indicates that they’re totally able-bodied. And lord knows it’s so awesome to have strangers stick their noses into your private medical issues!

I’ve had people tell me I’m making a bigger problem out of this than it has to be. Their methods vary from, “I know someone who had that and was all better in a week,” to, “Well all you have to do is walk into the ER and shout ‘OBAMACARE!’ and you’ll get all the free surgery you want!” I’m only disabled because I’m too lazy to make myself un-disabled. Because that’s totally how this works, apparently!

Oh and let’s talk about activism! You know all those “walks for charity” and “marches for equality”? Yeah, their names sort of give you a hint of something, right? Like maybe how they expect you to be able to “walk” or “march” if you care about something? I can’t protest for my own rights because I have yet to encounter a “march” that followed a wheelchair accessible route. Gee I sure hope you aren’t some other minority in addition to being handicapped, otherwise you’re just screwed!

Oh and let’s not forget how people slam full-force into my wheelchair because they just don’t bother looking down when they scan their path to avoid people. And the way people sneer at me if they need to let me exit a door before walking through it themselves. And the buildings that shut off their elevators without warning for administrative reasons and tell you to “just use the stairs,” like that’s actually possible for everyone. And and and and it never ends.

Hey, don’t forget about the personal side! That’s the side where friends don’t invite you out because they want to go somewhere you can’t access. The side where family throws a barbecue and doesn’t bother considering that your wheelchair isn’t made to roll over their grassy lawn. The side where your significant other’s friends and family will demand of them reasons why they’d lower themselves to dating a cripple. I mean, do they really want to be reaching the high shelves and helping you in and out of the shower for the rest of their life? Do they really want their partner to wheel themselves down the wedding aisle? And isn’t sex just so limited and unenjoyable when your partner doesn’t have full mobility? Clearly, dating a disabled person is a prison sentence.

Still don’t get it?

Disapproving crip disapproves of you.

All of this bullshit serves the same purpose: It strips the mobility-impaired of our humanity. We are no longer fully-functional humans deserving of the full range of human respect. No, now we’re half-people, who are only half as fun, half as sexy, half as competent as everyone else. Yet in spite of this sub-human status, we get treated by privilege-deniers like we’re granted super-human privilege. We have our every whim catered to! Everyone is ultra-nice to us! All doors are held for us, all parking spaces reserved! Our path isn’t just a red carpet, it’s a red mobile walkway escorting us around in perfect comfort! So it’s totally okay to mistreat us, make ableist judgments about us, treat us like our voices don’t matter as much as yours even when talking about our own lives. The rest of the world is giving us so much, why should you? Why on earth should you, someone battling ableism for your invisible disability, or someone simply tired of parking far away, have to show us respect as complete human beings? I mean, it’s not like we deserve it; we’re only cripples.


About bunnika

shout at the brick wall; if it doesn't hear you, shout louder
Aside | This entry was posted in ableism, challenging privilege. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to We’re Not Professor X: Why Being a Wheelchair User Doesn’t Mean Your Life is Magic and Rainbows

  1. All of this. Great post! As someone who struggles with a disability that is hidden only if I wear long pants, THIS.

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