Beware the man in the wheelchair with worn out shoes

I keep seeing that phrase thrown around twitter, and it really winds me up. I’ve seen various versions of it as well, each more offensive than the next. Sometimes it’s aimed at fictional characters on telly, disabled characters played by able-bodied actors, and sometimes it’s aimed at wheelchair users who don’t always depend on a wheelchair. There’s sexist versions, homophobic versions, racist versions. The ignorance in this one ignorant comment is horrific and worrying, quite frankly.

No matter how it’s said or who it’s aimed it, it doesn’t matter, it’s a saying that needs to stop. It’s offensive and it’s incorrect. It comes from the belief that every wheelchair user is always in a wheelchair, and it further perpetuates the belief that if you use a wheelchair and are then seen standing up or walking, you are faking, lying and downright untrustworthy.

Honestly, disability is not that plain and simple. Yeah, able-bodied actors playing disabled characters annoy me, because there are plenty of disabled actors out there, who maybe could add a bit of insight to the role, and they don’t get a look in. Why? I’ve never heard of one decent reason yet. But, the way people point out able-bodied people’s portrayal of disabled characters because they happen to see legs moving, feet tapping, is also wrong.

Not all forms of paralyses mean that a person can’t moved affected limbs completely, it also doesn’t mean that the affected limbs are numb to sensations, and it goes without saying that not all wheelchair users are in a wheelchair because they’re paralysed, and not all wheelchair users are wheelchair dependent. Here’s an interesting fact: Some people use wheelchairs because other parts than their legs don’t work! Their legs might be fine and functional, but it’s their backs that don’t work, they might have a heart condition, they might have chronic fatique syndrome. Even some severe forms of tourettes can affect a person’s mobility so much that they need to depend on a wheelchair.

And, for those of us who consider ourselves wheelchair dependent, it still doesn’t mean we’re in our wheelchairs all day, every day. How do you think some people get into their wheelchairs? Magical bubbles lifting us from our beds into our chairs? I use crutchers, some of my friends side transfer, some use a hoist.

All variety of disabilities and mobility aids have their own ways of wreaking havoc on shoes. Don’t believe me? Have a look at these!

my pair of old grubby trainers
These are my shoes, and they’ve been my shoes since 2009. I couldn’t get a decent photo of the tread underneath, but the worst looking shoe from the top is also the most worn out shoe from underneath.

If you’re not the type to think it’s proof of a lack disability, you’d probably think that that’s the shoe for my good leg, and maybe even that it’s all wrecked from having to put my best foot forward everytime I walk. Ahhh, if only I actually had a best foot to put forward! It’s more like not-as-dead-as-my-other-leg!foot Vs the-actual-dead-leg!foot.

Some people who understand the complexity of mobility issues might even assume that it’s all marked at the side from me crossing one leg over the other, or maybe tapping my leg against my chair or crutchers, or maybe even standing on the sides of my feet.

Well, you or that person would be wrong. Cos the worst shoe actually belongs to the foot of the leg that hardly ever moves. The whole leg is practically a dead weight, it catches on the underside of my footplate when I’m lifting it up onto the footplate, it’s constantly rubbing against the holding bar of the footplate as I merrily go along my day. It’s the foot that lands heavily on the ground, I’ve never lifted my feet properly but my knees are now buckled since my hip operation and I’m sure that has made my weight bearing even worse, from a functional viewpoint, so the underside of my shoe takes a bit of a beating.

I’ve seen shoes of the friends who use hoists, and their shoes end up in much the same state, and usually a lot quicker. I’ve seen the treads of the friends who side transfer, and the tread is always worn down, marked, marred or bobbled on the side of the shoes that hit the footplate bar. Same goes for those who use platform footrests and the metal holders.

Honestly, any comments like that are so… stupid and offensive! I can’t even believe people say it. I’ve had these shoes for 5 years, and yeah they’re the longest lasting pair of shoes I’ve had, but look at the state of them! Look at the left shoe! You can’t see it from this angle, but a small bit of stitching has come undone by the heel, it’s only because I don’t walk that that those shoes are still holding together. I imagine if I started miraculously walking everywhere tomorrow, I wouldn’t get very far before the stitching undoes completely and the heel starts coming apart.

Please, next time anyone says it, tell them how wrong they are. Or better yet, point their ignorant faces in this direction. If they want to carry on believing wheelchair users have perfect, pristine, unmarked, unworn shoes, they’ll have to keep me and every other wheelchair user in supply of new shoes every few months!

Oh, that’d be too expensive for them? Well, then they’ll just have to learn and accept the diversity of disability then, won’t they?

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