What’s the first thing someone says to you when you introduce yourself?
Maybe it is something like, “Hey, I’m Marie. Glad to meet you,” accompanied by a curious expression and a friendly handshake.
I often miss this kind of introduction when I meet new people. What I often hear from them is, “Oh, poor thing! Do you need help?” or, “What a pitty! Someone as beautiful as you shouldn’t be bound to a wheelchair. I am so sorry!” followed by a look of shame or a childish attempt at comforting me by petting my shoulder. Some of the very brave and obtrusive individuals even give me a good stroke on the head, regardless of the context of our meeting and the fact that I am an adult woman.
Every time that happens, I am left in a huge emotional turmoil. I usually feel humiliated, frustrated, angry and sad at the same time. In those moments, I ask myself, “Why is sitting in a wheelchair such a horrific thing in people’s eyes, which obviously shuts off their sanity within a second?”
You see, from my point of view, being able to use a wheelchair is almost a privilege – and a great asset!
It took three years, a persistent lawyer, a lot of money and countless nervous breakdowns until my health insurance finally granted me a customized wheelchair. Until then, I was moving around on crutches, which resulted in many health issues and a lot of pain because my body was not able to handle the strain of walking. I was also very dependent on other people and rather isolated. When I wanted to go outside, I had to wait for a “good day”, during which my physical pain was bearable. On “bad days”, I had to rely on my friends’ and family’s availability to get me what I needed while I stayed at home. Can you imagine how miserable I felt?
My wheelchair changed all that. Suddenly, I could decide independently when and where I wanted to go out and about. I finally had a life – and freedom! Feeling so good enabled me to shift my focus away from all the ailments I was dealing with towards all the goals I had for my life.
Of course, our world is still rather inaccessible for wheelchair users and that is a great concern. However, recently, while I was in Munich attending one of the Provotainment-Trainings I had organized together with my mentor and keynote speaker Martin Gaedt, I realised that even this ongoing lack of accessibility has a beneficial aspect to it.
Every time I got stuck in the streets with my wheelchair, I had to ask someone for help. This way, I easily got in touch with 15 to 20 people within a few hours and had a chance to listen to their personal stories while they manoeuvred me out of my misery. Isn’t that an advantage personally, but also when it comes to acquiring new business customers, for example?
Another preference I became aware of during my city tour, was my eye for details. As I was able to sit and relax while I was moving around, I saw every little flower finding its way through the cracks of the pavement. I also noticed countless details in people’s behaviour around me, and I had the ability to soak up every ray of sunshine while being fully present in the moment.
Every time I noticed a barrier somewhere, my brain automatically began searching for a way to redesign it in an accessible way. I realised that my wheelchair makes sure I am always a puzzle solver instead of a problem creator and thus instantly switch my perspective whenever necessary. What an amazing experience and a great skill!
I invite you to participate in this perception as well. Be aware of the details, of all the prettiness on your ways, which makes life more colourful and enjoy it! Most importantly, be present next time you meet a person sitting in a wheelchair. Shift your focus from the disability towards the person in front of you.Tags: Diversity, Empowerment, Inclusion, Insights, Inspiration, Women