One of the things that annoys me the most about having an invisible illness is when strangers come up to me and tell me I don't need my wheelchair because they just saw me stand up or walk to my chair from the car. Too many times to count, I have been called a fraud or told I'm faking it just because I'm not paralyzed.
As part of Invisible Illness Awareness Week, I would like to raise awareness of wheelchair users who have an invisible illness, like I do, and to point out some of the challenges we come across.
Some wheelchair users can walk.
It's not that difficult to get your head around. Some people use wheelchairs because it's dangerous for them to walk.They can pass out or collapse. Others use them because walking is painful and causes dislocations (I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and fibromyalgia and this is the case for me). There are many reasons why a person uses a wheelchair, but the biggest thing to remember is this: if you do not know the person then why they use a wheelchair is none of your business.
Another piece of advice: if you see someone park in a disabled parking space and they display a blue badge but get out the car and look healthy and walk, do not question them. If they are displaying a disabled parking badge then they are entitled to use that space. End of story. You don't know how painful it is for that person to walk. You don't know what invisible illnesses they are suffering from. One time, I was harassed by a man who didn't think I needed my disabled parking badge. He thought I shouldn't be parked in that space and he waited for me to come out of the shop to tell me so. It was pretty intimidating for a 20-year-old girl to be confronted by a strange man questioning my disability, and no one should have to go through that.
I wouldn't go up to a random person and ask them personal questions, so why does it become supposedly acceptable when that person has mobility equipment?
I constantly get asked:
-- "Were you in an accident?"
-- "What happened?"
-- "Why do you need a wheelchair"
All from people I have never seen before and will never see again.
One other thing: young people get illnesses too. Young people may need to use a wheelchair. It is not something you suddenly are only entitled to when you hit an older age.
Some old people get so offended when they see me in my chair -- like I haven't earned the right to use one because I haven't reached a certain age. I'm often getting snide comments about how I'm too young to have a wheelchair because I'm only 20 years old. I didn't choose to need one and I'm pretty sure with all my pain I have earned the right to use one.
Pretty people can be disabled, too. The number of people I know that have been told we are too pretty to need a wheelchair is ridiculous. What do the two things have to do with each other? It's nice to know people think I'm pretty, but it's hard not to view it as a backhanded compliment. I didn't realize only unattractive people could be disabled. Their assumption is rude.
So next time you see someone in a wheelchair and you want to make small talk, talk about something like you would with every other person -- talk about the weather, whatever you want -- but not about what may or may not be going on in their bodies. Because you never know.
Follow Beth Griffiths on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Bendy_Beth