Kids and wheelchair manners

Please stop yelling at your kids just because they’re 20 feet away from a wheelchair! Nothing bad is going to happen. It really pisses me off when someone grabs their kid, yanks them “out of the way” and yells at them, just because I’m in the same grocery aisle or on the same sidewalk. Usually, the kids are nowhere near me. All these people are doing is teaching their children that people in wheelchairs are scary and weird.

Since I *am* scary and weird, maybe this shouldn’t be a big surprise! Ha!

computer history museum

Half the time it seems to be the adult worrying that their child will somehow go out of control and hurt me. And half the time it’s the other way around – the adult seems afraid that I’m going to run over their child! Or maybe both, and then I’ll invoke my disabled person superpowers and whip out an instant lawsuit!

It’s very stupid, because they wouldn’t act like that if I were just sitting in a regular chair somewhere near their child!

I also don’t like it when grownups yell at kids not to stare or ask questions. I’m in a giant cool exoskeleton with light-up wheels. I have purple hair. Kids get to stare. They should be curious! If they ask me why I’m in a wheelchair, I can answer them however I like. The parent doesn’t have to step in and act all embarrassed. I might say that I use the chair to help me get around, or because my legs hurt if I walk very far. If we’re in a social situation or a playground I get out of the chair, sit on a bench, and teach random children how to push themselves around in my wheelchair. It’s fun and it demystifies disability for the kids and teaches them that mobility equipment is just another tool.

Like this, when I took my nieces and nephews in a dunebuggy chair at Imperial Beach!

Little kids can appreciate the fun bits of a manual wheelchair. I give them rides on my lap down hill or spin around in circles or demonstrate how I can pop a wheelie. I can also converse on many fascinating topics, draw good cartoons, and carry many electronic gadgets with games in my pockets so it’s not like I’m the amusement park fun ride with no other dimensions to the kids I know.

Older kids who catch me in a bad mood might get a more snappy answer. Not the end of the world and not the end of the conversation!

There should be more Wheelchair Barbies, or Becky, or whatever her name was! Just to normalize things for everyone. How about a wheelchair using Bratz doll? I mean why the heck not?

with laptop

Grown adults who stare or ask intrusive questions are being rude. They aren’t children! They have had ample time to experience life, learn stuff, and meet a range of different people. They can give me some space! Unless we’re on a playground or in some social situation and then I might offer my chair for them to try so they admire its maneuverability, just like I might want to ride their cool bike. Really, most of the time, adults should have other things to talk about. It would be like endlessly commenting on another person’s accent or the size of their feet … just tedious.

I realize not everyone is going to want to or be able to get out of their chair to lend it to anyone, child or adult! I do it because I tend to want to share anything I do or experience that’s a bit unusual. It’s a rare thing, but when it happens, it can be really fun. And it can be like personal activism or diplomacy.

It’s adults, not kids, who do all the rudest things to me as a person in a wheelchair. Adults are the ones who lean on the chair, kick my tires, grab the seat back and tip me backwards or push me without asking, or stand in front of me in a crowd so that their butt or crotch or purse is right in my face or so that I can’t see over them to a show or a museum exhibit. It’s adults who with false joviality will go, “Heh heh, sure wish *I* could be sitting down in one of those things!” while we’re standing in line. Yeah right. Ha ha very funny, I never heard that one before!

If any kids are reading this, feel free yell at your parents next time they wince at the sight of me and act all weird, just because we’re sharing the same sidewalk. But don’t worry… I’ll yell at your parents for you… with a smile. It gives me a little rush every time I smile like a shark at some lady in the drugstore and go “Actually, your child was no where near me, and I can see them, so you don’t have to act weird about it.” Every time I say something like that, someone’s head explodes, and I feed off their brains like a gleeful zombie as I wheel away.

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51 Responses to Kids and wheelchair manners

  1. immeemz says:

    BEST. POST. EVER.

  2. Denise says:

    LOL I am a watch out before you run someone over person around Tarrant because she is not aware of her surroundings. She runs people over when she's just walking down the street. Give anyone else control of the wheelchair and I'm good.

    Great post Liz.

    • lizhenry says:

      Well, to be overly generous, I have been known to accidentally hamstring people with my footrest. But it's not full-on scythed chariot action! YET.

  3. Suebob says:

    Right on. My sis used to say the same thing about kids "They're just curious, it's OK!" – she had a HUGE electric chair that let her fully recline or stand up, so it was quite the exoskeleton.

    I always found it fascinating to be out an about with her, because she became an instant projection screen for people's fears and anxieties. A lot of random stranger people would ask "What happened to you?" and I figured out that it was as if, by merely figuring it out, prevent it from happening to THEM. She used to answer with some gleeful madness "I got MS – it has no known cause and no cure!" The other people were the pray-ers. "I'll pray for you" they would whisper with moist eyes and clutched hands. She would be like "So, you pray for EVERYONE?"

    • lizhenry says:

      People have asked me not just What HAPPENED to you? but "Are you going to DIE?" Yes… yes I am. We're all going to die! Someday! I had someone ask me that right in front of my 7 year old child. I have also had many pray-ers, some people who want to know if I have sex, and more regularly, people who want me to reassure them that I'm getting better and working hard. "Yes I'm working super hard – to avoid talking to rude people!"

  4. lizhenry says:

    There has got to be some happy medium between people *leaping out of the way* when I'm nowhere near them and actually bashing into me. You'd think, wouldn't you?

    I have a theory that some people think I'm a hrududu, and they just go tharn.

  5. sunlightkittycat says:

    THAT KID ON YOUR LAP THERE IS HELLA CUTE oh right she is my daughter EVEN STILL

    • lizhenry says:

      She is isn't she! I thought of wheeling her around in the Computer History Museum last weekend while I was giving her a ride around the park! She only gets cuter 8-)

  6. Beki says:

    A friend of mine showed me this link. I hope you don’t mind me being intrusive. My son who is 10 is semi ambulatory and gets around in public in a wheelchair. What drives me freaking insane is when some “well meaning” adult grabs his wheelchair while he is cooking his way down the road. I don’t care if we are at the maul, or if we are going down the street. I’m usually off to the side so I can look at him while I talk to him. I tend to get very loud especially if there is a large crowd and shout “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING TO MY SON? ARE YOU TRYING TO STEAL HIM??” I am probably going to hell for that, but maybe it will teach folks to *ASK* him if he needs help.

    What I do find to be odd is that kids are for the most part ok with it. I’ve yet to see a kid hop on the back of his chair or be obnoxious about it. It’s the adults I usually have issue with.

  7. Tess says:

    You know, probably my favorite bit of this post (and I liked it a lot!) is that you have *purple hair*, which is basically a way of saying "no, really, it's OKAY to LOOK AT ME." I generally have blue hair myself, and if I saw you I'd be all into the where-do-you-get-the-dye conversation before I even SAW the chair.

    But, seriously, if my kid was staring at a woman with purple hair in a wheelchair, I'd be thinking "heh, she must be okay with staring children." Hair color is honestly really optional, after all. Unlike wheelchairs.

    (Here via LJ, friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend.)

  8. Anna says:

    This was an interesting post not because I tell my kid not to look at people in wheelchairs, but because I'm always telling my kid not to stare at _everyone/anyone_. I'm a pretty private person, and am really conscious when my 6-year-old is just flat-out people-watching. It may be that some parents who are telling their kids not to stare are non-discriminatorially hyper like me. ;)

    That said, when he does encounter someone in a wheelchair I tend to hold back because I like to see what kind of manners he has; if he waits for an automatic door to open or if he pushes through or whatnot. It's another good reason not to be on your kid right away.

  9. Kelly says:

    Um. This post is so amazing I have tears in my eyes. Thank you so much.

  10. Mel says:

    Yes, thank you. I was about four the first time I saw a little kid get backhanded for looking at me – and I had waved at him, first!

    I wish there were a way to educate everybody about this somehow. Like, a national PSA, or some kind of prize-drawing with bonus announcement.

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  12. lauredhel says:

    Here via Raising Boychick, and I too love this post! I'm a scooter user. I've ranted before about the exaggerated chivalry of people who leap ostentatiously "out of the way" (from five metres away) and then bow medieval-style, trying to get me to notice them.

    And the toddler-snatcher-awayers… but it's not just toddlers. I've had parents snatch away five, six, seven year olds, and give me the glare. Once I was just close enough to a deliberately-just-loud-enough conversation about how "THOSE PEOPLE" drive "THOSE THINGS". (I dial back to slower than walking speed around easily-spooked bipeds). And this was at my kid's school, the parents of some of his classmates. *shakes head* I've given up on the submissive smile recently, and started just saying "I've not run anyone over yet." Sometimes I put an extra full stop in after "over"…

    Kids, however, are pretty much fabulous. Mostly they ask me not what happened to me or why I use it – but how fast it goes, and how it works, and what the buttons do, and whether it's got turbo, and how they can get one. I wrote about one encounter with some great kids not long ago.

    • lizhenry says:

      Ha! I love your snappy answer and its punctuation!

      The other day in the bathroom at my office building a lady did the startle and leap and bow, and then tried to hold the bathroom stall door open for me (while standing in the way of my going in.) At that point I just cracked up laughing and went, "You know, it's really okay." and then couldn't say anything else because I was laughing too hard. She ducked her head a little more and fled the bathroom as I smiled and waved!

      I couldn't begin to decipher the layers of embarrassment she was going through. Perhaps she has a therapist.

      I'm going to be reading your archives tonight too! What a fabulous post…

  13. lizhenry says:

    Hi MarfMom! I know what I'm doing tonight… reading your and Raising Boychick's archives! 8-)

    I do try for the education and demystification but sometimes end up snarling at people (well, at grownups) when they poke me to answer medical types of questions! The Diplomat is not always "in". But it's a goal.

  14. Michelle says:

    Fantastic!!! A friend of mine posted this on Facebook.
    I'm a w/c user as well and you have mentioned every thought I've ever had about the subject! Thanks for sharing!

    • lizhenry says:

      Hi Michelle! I'm glad you liked it and I hope it made you laugh! I wrote a flip side of this as a somewhat rude rant for rude grownups over on another blog, I'm not quite so pissed off as I was then but I still like the line "My lap is not your shelf." 8-) I was thinking I should rewrite that old list as a more useful manners guide.

  15. Issadora says:

    Your article says everything Ive always wanted to say and thought and have shared with closer friends and just wish the general non wheelchair public would reead … maybe I should print this out and the next time soneone hruls their child out o my way 10 feet from me, i will speed up, catch up and hand them this!! hahaha

  16. Allison says:

    I once had a 3 year old girl walk up to me in a food court and ask the best question ever…

    She asked if I had been bad.

    Her dad was mortified, but that was a question I HAD to get the back story on… since I figured I was going to hear something about God punishing me or whatever rot she had been indoctrinated with…

    So, I asked her why she thought I was bad… from the best question ever came an even better answer. "You have to push your own stroller… my mommy said if I was bad she was going to step away from my stroller and I would have to push it myself. I can't push it and be in it too – you have a better stroller, I think"

    From the mouths of babes…

    • lizhenry says:

      That is SO awesome! I laughed! I too would have expected the God stuff and been happily surprised! ahahahahaha

  17. wookie says:

    Is it okay to ask my kids to move to the side of the aisle so that you'll have a clear path? I don't want to be insensitive, but I don't want them impeding anyone either.

    • lizhenry says:

      I don't think I can speak for everyone and I'm sure some people feel that parents should keep their kids on kind of a tight leash. I don't usually feel that way and can say "excuse me" to people who are where I want to go. Adults too often kind of leap out of the way to clear my path or pay exaggerated attention to what I'm about to do. But they wouldn't act that way for someone with another grocery cart or a stroller. If I were having some kind of difficulty or couldn't say "Hey I'm trying to get by here" then I guess I'd feel differently about it!

      But, it kind of goes with the territory that some people jump and freak, and some people feel totally free to pat me. I got a patting lady today while I was crossing Embarcadero in downtown San Francisco today. She came up behind me and put her arm around me and started to talk with me. A total stranger!

      My own kid can certainly moon about in the middle of sidewalks and aisles and I get it that sometimes parents need to give them a heads up!

  18. wookie says:

    I totally yank my kids out of the way of strollers and shopping carts as well. They are utterly oblivious.

  19. Fawn says:

    Love your blog as a fellow parent and feminist and want to comment on another reason this post is great. Even though I have had a housemate who used a wheelchair and other friends with disabilities, I am still surprised and horrified at the every day ablism you experience–and surprised to be surprised. That says something about lack of space for the voices of people with disabilities in our culture. Glad you are sharing your experiences, along with many other cool things, here!

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  21. Jack D. says:

    Good post. You say it like it is (first post I've read on your site).
    Two points: First, I don't like when parents yell at their kids regardless the reasons. Second, I think it's extremely cool you offer your wheelchair to kids to try. I think many kids are keen on that opportunity for curiosity sake and it's a great educational opp for kids.

  22. Tabitha says:

    I love colored hair, especially deep blue and purple, so I try not to stare, but it’s hard to look away.

    Loved that girl’s comment about being bad, and it’s refreshing for many people to have kids spontaneously interact with them no matter the circumstance.

    I guess once again it is parents that create the parents of the coming generation with all the hang-ups that really amounts to fear of what other people think of them, rather than the childish approach of exploring the diversity of the day with no sense of inhibition. They are a refresher course for many of us about how to behave oneself!

  23. Homepage says:

    I don't understand why a lot of people are afraid of people in a wheelchair? What's wrong with these people?

  24. Excellent article. A person point out the item like it will be (first article I've keep reading your current site).A couple of things: Primary, My partner and i dislike any time mother and father yell at his or her kids in spite the issues. Next, I do believe it's particularly trendy an individual deliver your current wheelchair to kids to utilise. I do believe numerous kids are usually interested in of which chance of interest cause and it's a fantastic educational opp pertaining to kids.

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