wheelchairHow can a large object, weighing around 35 pounds, become magically invisible without asking Harry Potter? Easy – when it’s a wheelchair.

I met a friend for lunch and shopping on Friday. He just so happens to use a wheelchair. Cardiff has a fairly wheelchair-friendly city centre, with wide streets, accessible shops and restaurants and large, open spaces. That wasn’t the problem, it was the people.

To be fair, the shop assistants and waiters were lovely. We went to the Apple store (heaven for him, boring for me) and it was a breeze. Then Paperchase (heaven for me, incomprehensible to him- why would anyone need drawing pins shaped like ladybirds?) and it was great. We had a slight mishap in a cafe when my friend reversed into a table and knocked over a tray full of coffee cups, but those wheelchairs have a surprisingly wide turning circle.

What really annoyed me though, as we were stumbling/wheeling through town were the other pedestrians. It was soon apparent we were inconveniencing them by having the cheek to bring a wheelchair into town. There were tuts and sighs, doors left to slam in our faces, people shoving past us as if we weren’t there. It was impossible to walk/wheel side by side, so I took to pointing wildly at the general direction we were heading in, trying to keep track of where my friend was.

He was nonplussed. He’d seen it all before. He especially enjoyed watching people walk straight towards him engrossed in their mobile phones. He told me he’d taken to scanning metres ahead and had learned to weave in and out of the crowd, but it’s a lot harder to do when you’ve got someone else with you.

He just smiled wryly when I muttered ‘so RUDE’ ¬†and huffed and puffed at someone for the umpteenth time. It shocked me. I wish I had been braver and asked some of the people what their problem was. I like a good argument.

Accessibility for wheelchairs may have changed for the better, but attitudes still have a very, very long way to go.

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16 thoughts on “Wheelchair-Unfriendly

  1. julie says:

    I know what you are saying, I use 2 walking sticks and people can be pretty ignorant and it tests my patience too!

    • stumbling in flats says:

      Hi Julie!
      Isn’t it awful? People are just so rude sometimes. I remember it was the same when I had a pram, even though I chose the smallest, tiniest little buggy. People!!

  2. Anita says:

    So true. I recently went to the London Science Museum with my kids for the first time in years and in a wheelchair. Train staff were lovely, the publics attitude shocked me and the kids. They pushed passed me some in such earnest to get ahead they were nearly in my lap! Women with children who You would think would be trying to teach their children manners were worse. My son said he’d never live in London but looks like its widespread.

    • stumbling in flats says:

      Hi Anita,
      Such a shame it’s happened to you too. My friend now takes it in his stride (I suppose he’s learned to, otherwise he wouldn’t leave the house), but I was shocked beyond belief.
      Like you said, the parents are the worst. And some elderly people!

  3. Hi,
    Hang on a moment, what was the combined width of you, wheelchair and space between you and wheelchair? How wide was the pavement?

    It is very easy to get up on your high horse and complain about the behavior of pedestrians but think about it from the other way. Were you effectively blocking the pavement?

    People are thoughtless when it comes to keeping doors open, sadly that is life but there are others who go out of their way to be ultra helpful.

    The hassle and agro you mention occurs to me when on my mobility scooter that is only 27″ wide or 2ft 3″. Don’t get angry, just smile sweetly and mutter quietly under your breath, even swear.

    As a student I played a wonderful game – cleaving couples. How many couples could you walk between on the pavement. A friend and myself would compete for the highest score. This is an irrelevance but maybe you could think up a similar game

    Have fun,


    • stumbling in flats says:

      Hi Patrick,
      An excellent point – and one I can clarify!! The area we were in in Cardiff has no pavements, just wide open spaces. A new redeveloped part of the centre. Totally agree, if we’d been on pavements, I would have understood the lack of manners of other people.
      Believe me, I always think of other people- far too much at times.
      I LOVE that ‘Cleaving Couples’ game! Will definitely do next time and should make the whole experience funnier!

      • Cleaving couples, yea its a gas but best played with a friend and keep a running score. You get more points if they are holding hands etc.

        • stumbling in flats says:

          I am very much looking forward to it! Probably extra points if they’re kissing and/or looking into each others eyes too?
          You should trademark some ‘Cleaving Couples’ merchandise…

    • Anita says:

      Sorry Patrick but feel I have to reply to your comment. I have to use a wheelchair outside all the time and my 12 year old or my husband or son have to push. I was brought up to give my seat up on a bus/train etc. to respect my elders and neighbours, and to help others. As a result Since my children were little I have done the same with them. I have my parents to thank for that. The bad manners we see is on a daily basis but not with the people you’d think. I have been helped by a group of hoody teenagers when I found myself stuck. Two teenage boys turned back on themselves to help my daughter when we couldn’t get up a kerb. I find its middle aged people, parents etc who just seem to be lacking in basic manners even taking away the wheelchair/disability. As a nation we need to start looking out for each other. Manners and kindness cost nothing. Being self obsessed and meeting just your own needs will cost people in the end. Sorry about being on my high horse!

      • stumbling in flats says:

        Hey Anita,
        I hate to say it, but I agree – it was older people who were the most rude. Makes you wonder!
        It should be seen as absolutely normal to be in a wheelchair, or accompanying a person in one. Just like people with prams. Where have our manners gone! If I slammed the door in an older person’s face, they would be the first to complain, but it seems ok for them to do it to other people. Not wanting to start an argument here, but there was a definite generational divide…

  4. Lee Domenico says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. It took me of a few years back to the shock of how RUDE people really are. And I am not talking young adults, I am talking about people my age, in their mid to late 40’s.

    Shortly after my MS diagnosis, my daughter had purchased wheelchair accessable seating to the Maroon Five concert at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, NJ. It was held during the summer and it was a beautiful but very hot night.

    Like any concert, the crowds were a little under the weather if you know what I mean. The venue is indoor and outdoor seating. The crowd was enjoying the hot summer weather and for the most part it was an older crowd. This was my first experience in a public event using a wheelchair.

    As my newly 21 year old daughter, who is just 5′ and tiny as good be struggled to push me to the arena, people just push into us, were oblvious to us and they actually laughed when we got stuck on a crack in the sidewalk. Not one person offered any assistance that evening. They either had a good laugh at our expense or they were totally oblivious to us.

    I never felt so invisible in my entire life. I also was absolutely mortified and shocked to learn how RUDE people really are. Regardless, it was the best night ever.

    • stumbling in flats says:

      Hi Lee,
      That’s a truly shocking tale. Can’t believe people actually laughed.
      I also found that it wasn’t so much the young adults (or younger than me!), it was people older than me. Which I guess is hopeful for the future as kids seem to be a lot more accepting of seeing wheelchairs and they have grown up in a more wheelchair-friendly world.
      I do wonder if some of the older people are still of that generation that people in wheelchairs are best staying at home, out of sight, which was certainly the case back in the 1970’s when my dad was in a wheelchair.
      But glad you had a great night – I love Maroon Five!

  5. Rude behavior is upsetting; sorry you and your friend had to experience that. Do you think there’s any part of it that relates to people being uncomfortable seeing someone with a disability? Sort of a “if I don’t ‘see’ them, I won’t have to acknowledge their difference”-type reaction? I think some people get plussed (if there’s a “nonplussed” there darn well should be a “plussed”) and don’t know how to respond, so they resort to ignoring, which certainly can translate to total rudeness. No idea if that’s even remotely accurate, just a theory.

    p.s. Love the cleaving game idea!!

    • stumbling in flats says:

      I think you’re totally right – the ‘uncomfortable’ reaction, i.e. it could be any one of us in a wheelchair. And yes, often it’s better to pretend not to see a darned huge wheelchair coming towards you!
      It was interesting/frustrating to see the world so differently. And not in a good way.
      p.s. Cleaving rocks!

  6. Donna says:

    I work in Edinburgh city centre, it’s a nightmare navigating around crowds of people, but I just suck it up. The people who are engrossed in their mobile phones are definitely the worst – whether they are heading straight towards you, or are slowly strolling along the pavement in front of you. Edinburgh has a great bus service for wheelchair users – the only problem being people who crowd the exit whilst the ramp is being extended for me to get off the bus – I have new game now though, people skittles – it’s so tempting to see how many I could get in one go!

    • stumbling in flats says:

      Hi there!
      Great to hear that Edinburgh is wheelchair friendly. Cardiff should be a lot better, but roads are easy-ish to change, not so easy to change people’s mindsets!

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