How to Make Friends and Influence (Able‐bodied) People
When occupying a confined space such as a bus, train, or elevator make sure you take up as little space as humanely possible. Able‐bodied people will appreciate you not taking up more room than you’re allotted while operating in a space that only marginally acknowledges people like you exist. Dodge people’s backpacks like you’re Neo while simultaneously apologizing for your presence as a whole.
Buy an ultralight chair. Taxi drivers just hate lifting heavy aluminum chairs into the trunks of their cabs. Imagine their surprise when, while preparing to do some kind of dead‐lift, they discover that you sprang for one of those fancy “racing” chairs that weighs next to nothing. Bask in their appreciation to the point you forget how you had to shell out an additional $2,500 since your insurance only covers “standard” chairs.
Practice your “It doesn’t fold” speech to the point it sounds apologetic. Master showing people how the wheels come off and that it will in fact fit in the trunk.
Get used to being compared to some kind of vehicle. Laugh along as people ask why you don’t beep when you go backwards, have spinners, or “pimp your ride”. Realize they don’t mean it to be dehumanizing. Try not to feel less human.
Realize that your body and physical appearance are open for public discussion. Ignore the “Hey Speed Racer!” cat‐calls and the “I’m praying for you” comments as you go down the street. Everyone has an opinion about how you look or act and many of them are unable to resist the urge to express it. Resist the urge to scream; people might think less of you.
Don’t do anything that makes you stand out more in public than you already do. Don’t jump curbs, go faster than is considered normal, or do anything that the able‐bodied people around you might consider “risky”. You don’t want to make them nervous, now do you?
Get used to never seeing anyone else in a wheelchair in public. Get used to people freaking out when there’s more than one of you in a given area.
Get comfortable answering questions about your sex life, sexuality, and sexual function from complete strangers. Able‐bodied people are just curious and want to know “…how’s that work, exactly?”
Be prepared to answer detailed questions from friends and coworkers about why you don’t have a manual or power chair like the one other disabled person they happen to know. Also, be prepared to explain that just because someone else is disabled and nearby doesn’t automatically mean you know anything about them. Don’t tell them about the secret meetings we all apparently attend.
Describe everyone as “tall”.
Embrace those moments when someone else in a chair stares down your gear. When they have questions about what kinds of bags you use, how you maneuver around the city, and what hills to avoid, answer them with enthusiasm. Realize you are not alone and that your experience has value. Hold onto that feeling as someone shouts at you on the street about how your chair needs hydraulics and a light kit.