Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wheelchair. The best seat in the house.

One of my great challenges in life, or possibly it is a gift, is the ability to see things from both sides. This is true with politics, entertainment and human behavior. This also includes what it is like to be in a wheelchair.

I am able to walk short distances using a walker. But if more walking is required or if I don’t know the lay of the land, I use the wheelchair. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by this. It is just a fact of life – my life.

Here are the bad parts of being in the chair:

● When I am in the wheelchair, the people I am with are usually standing behind me and can’t or don’t hear me talking. When I talk loud enough to be heard, they want to know why I am yelling!

● In public places, when they need to ‘park me for a second’, there always seems to be an available ‘spot’ next to the trash can. PEE-EW!

● When we go to restaurants, the host or hostess looks at me sitting in the wheelchair and then asks the person I am with “Does he want a regular chair?” ASK ME PLEASE! (Ironically, if I enter a restaurant using the walker, we always seem to get the table furthest away.)

These are all minor, readily surmountable issues. These are the things I have noticed when sitting in the chair. These are all issues that my family and I can usually laugh about.

There is one more behavioral issue that I notice. That issue is that the people I don’t know who see me in the wheelchair can usually be divided into two camps. They are:

1. People who seem particularly friendly towards me.

2. People that pretend to not see me or avoid me.

I always prefer the friendly faces. I suppose that if I am in a wheelchair, and don’t look homeless (I am pretty sure that I don't look homeless), I may appear harmless and easy to approach, so people do. I get more smiles and hellos when I am in the chair than I do when I am not. I would like to think that I am a very friendly and approachable guy, and so I love the friendly faces, smiles and hellos.

What I don’t like and wish I could change are all the faces of those not wanting to look at or notice me. It is not that I want attention or to be noticed because I am in a wheelchair. It is that I don’t want to be AVOIDED just because I am in a chair.

My favorite experience is when a child approaches me and asks why I am in the wheelchair. I always thank them for asking and explain as simply as I can that I have “weak legs.”

My least favorite experience is when the parent pulls the child away from me and tells them, teaches them not to ask, or to look and that talking to me is not polite. I always prefer the honesty and innocence of a child asking why, to the avoidance of an adult who thinks they know better.

My goal is this: To increase the visibility of disability. I want to be seen as an outstanding member of the world because of my participation in it and not because of my disability. I want to see a world that is so accessible, that people with a disability are outstanding because of who they are and not because of their disability.

I want to see a world where we are all approachable, smile and say hello.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.


  1. Dearest Michael, I look forward to reading your blog. You see more from you chair than anyone who walks tall. You see up and beyond the one that looks straight ahead, and you are far superior with your weak legs than one who can run, as you have done your share of running in the past. we love you, Ben & Jean

  2. Michael this is great. I always love to read and hear peoples honest, and non-biased perspective of things, situations, beliefs and attitudes, etc ... there always two sides to the coin and people now a days seem to not understand that. I look forward to your next posting.

    Best Regards - Kenneth (THE WEB DESIGNER) ...

  3. Hey Buddy,
    I appreciate your insights from your unique perspective. Makes me think about my own reactions to people - hopefully I will be more mindful next time! Keep up the good work.

  4. Michael,
    I do so enjoy reading your blog! Your writings are thoughtful and encourage us all to review how we interact with the world. Thank you!! and I look forward to the next one.

  5. Hi Michael and Gail-

    Many people don't know how to respond or what to say to someone in a wheel chair.

    I've seen people in chairs...and have been curious, yet shy, or embarrassed to ask anything, or to say anything.

    Concerned it will be awkward for me or them.

    Do I ask "so what happened?" or "how are you today?"

    Your comment about being avoided or invisible is important for others to realize, as those same people may have felt "invisible" at some point in their lives; and can recall how hurtful (even if unintentional) it was.

    You could add a e-book to your project list
    about this. Or create a movement.

    Stuff you are a natural at.

  6. You are an inspiration, Michael for so many. Your words are most eloquent and heartfelt!

    Thought you'd enjoy my "scooter" story today. I am a nurse and work in an outpatient Cancer Info Center and part of the job is community presentations. Today I spoke with high school students in a health ed class about skin cancer. After my talk, I asked for a couple students to volunteer for a couple questions. As a "reward" for particpation, I told them a little about MS and let them drive my scooter in the classroom and then I raced a student down the hall for fun. Yes, high school students enjoyed this! When I asked what they might share with their p;arents about my talk, they shouted "a scooter can go 4.5 mph" in addition to "wear sunscreen".
    We can provide disability education in so many ways!
    Look forward to seeing you at TOC in 2009!

  7. You hit the nail on the head regarding "parking of the wheelchair" - I always get dumped in the out of the way places too. And because my husband has a hearing problem (but not to his way of thinking), his leaning over to hear me when he is driving the chair doesn't help me at all. I end up straining my voice to be heard.

    MS attacks many parts of the body - with me it is my voice mostly. I guess it is noticed there more than anywhere else. But if you just look at me, then the gait and fine motor things are prevalent.

    Found your blog and look forward to reading more.

    We are a community of over 100 MS bloggers. Check us all out when you have time. Each blogger usually has a few links, but if you go to, our links are all there.

    Welcome and hope to see you around.


  8. Enjoy this one so much.. how true...

  9. Hi Michael,

    Thank You for writing and commenting on this subject. I recommend the book " Waist High In The World" by Nancy Mair to everyone. Like yourself, I think her outlook was not only insightful but refreshing , positive & necessary. I have been exposed to some eye opening experiences as well, through my sister Taniya who uses a wheelchair, or as I like to think of it -her " power wheels!" It's so crucial to continue to reduce the stigma associated with a wheelchair... & for that matter any kind of disability!

  10. For me, a wheelchair is one of the best invention ever built for a disabled person. It helps them to be more mobile, be more functional. Just like what wheelchair users always say; If there's a WHEEL, there's a way”.