I’m sure everyone who’s anyone has seen the picture of a concert goer crowd surfing in a wheelchair. My reaction, and maybe yours too – was that it looked great, and that I’d love the chance to do something like that. But reading Ollie Knocker’s story reminded me that there are certain protocols and etiquette around wheelchairs.
Ollie and his wheelchair were at festival with friends. They had made their way to the front of the crowd, and his posse offered to lift him up for a better view. They held him up for a few seconds, and then went back to dancing and digging the scene.
Later, after his friends had drifted away, a bunch of drunken revelers got it into their heads to lift him up again, which they did before he could tell them no. One of the handlers slipped and fell, causing the rest of them to drop Ollie. He ended up breaking both legs in 3 places, was in two toe-to-hip casts and spent 3 months in rehab.
Yeah, people bungee jump in wheelchairs, and sky dive, and there’s Sue Austin and her underwater power chair. Those are reasonably controlled situations assisted by trained support crews (one would hope…). And while any wheelchair rider will agree that the assistance of strangers is welcomed (maybe even necessary), there are a few caveats that we’d like our kind Samaritans to be aware of.
- If you are going to open a door for me, which I most definitely appreciate, please step out of the way. Too often, I have to navigate around your toes which I’d rather not crush. And if the door has one of those automatic opener kajiggers, it is usually easier for me to operate it myself.
- Please be aware that my chair is an extension of my body. I can’t say this enough – I really do appreciate your help in opening doors, assisting me over rotten curb cuts or up inclines. But please do not lay hands on my chair without my permission. And when you do, be advised that my chair has certain capacities and limitations that you might not be aware of.
I’ve never experienced any overenthusiastic assistants, but I’ve been in plenty of situations where a little help could go a long wrong way. A person in a wheelchair is not helpless, but is vulnerable. Thank you for your kindness, and for your respect.