10 QUESTIONS YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO ASK SOMEONE IN A WHEELCHAIR BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK
January 27, 2000
1. Why are you in a wheelchair?
This is probably the scariest question to ask someone in a wheelchair, yet one of the most important. If you ask the individual and he or she wishes not to talk about it then don’t worry about it. If you ask the individual and he or she gets angry with you then simply walk away and know that your intention to ask was only of concern and interest. That person is probably dealing with unresolved issues within themselves and are not ready to answer your question honestly. You have to remember that is human nature for someone to be curious as to why someone is in wheelchair even those who are in wheelchairs and see others in wheelchairs. The more fear you have of asking someone, the better your chances are of generating a negative or angry response. Just ask the question with the best of intentions. The responses from those who really wish to share their stories with you will vary considering that there are so many reasons why people become disabled.
2. What is it like to be in a wheelchair?
Again, considering that there are so many reasons why that person could be in a wheelchair, each response you receive will differ. If this question is posed in a friendly, concerned manner then you will often find that you have moved the individual emotionally. This is good. He or she will more than likely be touched by your concern and have the utmost respect for you because of your courage to ask. Be honest with them. If the thought of being disabled frightens you, then share that with them. If you are just totally clueless as to what it would be like, share that with them as well. The more open and honest you are, the more open and honest he or she will be with you. It’s like the beginning of any friendship, just maybe a little deeper.
3. Can you have sex?
C’mon you know that question is wandering somewhere in your mind and understandably so! When you see someone in a wheelchair, part of his or her body has been affected and because that person can not walk, it is a logical that the sex question would surface. Again, the more embarrassed you are to ask the question, the more uncomfortable the recipient of your question will tend to be. On the other hand, many people in wheelchairs whom I have met sense this uneasiness and usually utilize humor to create a more comfortable environment. As is the case with anyone, it is a very personal question and must be treated with much sensitivity, probably more so than with your able-bodied friends. There is usually an abundance of pain that surrounds the subject of sexuality with a disabled person because of an attachment to our physical bodies. Society, in general, associates the body with any kind of relationship with the opposite sex. People who are disabled, if they so choose, begin to explore a world where we are more than just our physical bodies. This does not eliminate the pain, it’s just an expansion of awareness. Again, the answer of this question will vary from person to person.
4. Do you ever say “why me?” or get angry, sad, etc.?
More than likely, everyone who has ever been disabled, whether it be for a couple of days, months, or years has gone through some type of adjustment period. Some adjust quicker than others. Whatever the case may be, just as is the case with able-bodied folks, sadness, anger, and all the other emotions are very present in a disabled person’s life. Most will run the gamut of emotions to find more meaning in their lives. Just think of any time in your life when you have had something taken away from you...a loved one, a job, money, pride, etc. Now think of what it would be like if you had a part of your body stripped from you. A loss is a loss, not to be compared to anyone else’s loss. It would be inhuman not to run the gamut of emotions when something is taken from you and uncertainty enters the picture as to what to fill the void with to avoid pain. As for the question, “Why me?,” this is a direct question to one’s soul and spirit and can not be judged. Some inner dialogue may be initiated with this question while others may be more openly expressive with this question and seek attention. Trust your instincts. You will know where this person is emotionally if you ever hear this question posed. Many people whom are disabled may ask the question, “Why not me?,” feeling that there is something to learn through their experience or not wishing this traumatic experience upon anyone else.
5. Were you born in a wheelchair?
Pratiksha always laughs at this question when it is posed to me and usually responds for me by saying, “That would have been a very painful delivery for his mother!” Seriously, this is a question that varies from person to person and must be addressed with the clearest and cleanest of intentions. If you see someone in a wheelchair and their limbs are fully developed, more than likely, it was not something that happened at birth. On the other hand, if you do see someone who may look grown-up in the face, yet has an underdeveloped or smaller body, you may be looking at someone who has had a genetic, congenital, or infant disability. It is human to be concerned with the amount of time that someone has been disabled because it allows one to imagine what his or her life would have been like if the tables had been turned. It’s a way of identifying with a disabled person on some level.
6. How do you get around?...get into cars, get into bed, get into the shower, get dressed, etc.
Until you are actually put into the situation of being disabled, you would think of doing these things because you take them for granted. I took them for granted for the first fifteen years of my life! There are so many types of disabilities with various function levels so it’s difficult to combine everyone’s can do’s and can not’s. For most people in wheelchairs, their is limited function of the lower limbs or legs. Therefore, everything from getting in and out of a wheelchair, to getting in and out of a car, to getting in and out of the shower, involves the use of one’s arms to perform a transfer. It involves pushing up in the wheelchair with one’s arms, allowing for clearance between one’s buttocks and the wheelchair, and sliding or shifting over to any given destination. Some people have some strength in their legs and can stand up and use a walker for short distances.
7. Can you have children?
Another sensitive question, yet a very logical one! I am going to sound like a broken record, but it depends on the disability. Some can conceive naturally, while other needs to explore more artificial means, and then there are others who opt for adoption. There is so much advancement in technology that what appeared to be a topic of hopelessness is now viewed as very promising. As with anything, it is my belief that if it is meant to happen then it will happen.
8. How do you go to the bathroom?
For many people who are confined to a wheelchair, the ability to pass urine or have a bowel movement is no longer a voluntary act. Depending on the individual again, this can be even more traumatizing than not being able to walk. For many individuals either one of two things occurs; first, you just go, just like a baby who has no control or on the other hand, you can not pass urine at all and must catherize or put a tube in the penis or vagina that leads to the bladder and relieves you instantly. This is not a pleasant experience of course, yet is a necessity for some. In regards to having a bowel movement, one may have to use a suppository or an enema while others may have to take a long time and push strenuously.
9. Are there any benefits to being in a wheelchair?
But of course! Believe it or not, there are so many perks to being in a wheelchair though some people who are disabled may not want to admit. Whether it be good parking spaces, great treatment at Disney World, special attention, physical attention through therapy, airline gratuities, hotel gratuities, and many other benefits. For some, these benefits could be as significant as the frustrations of being in wheelchair, thus leaving an individual as torn between walking again or not. Because the gains may balance the losses, one might be in a place of indecisiveness.
10. Will you ever walk again?
This question could generate some powerful emotions as well. It is a very direct or straight-to-the-point question that could catch a disabled person off guard if he or she is not prepared or ready to address this type of question. I would suggest that you get to know someone before you pose this question unless you feel an immediate connection. Depending on where that person is in his or her life will dictate the content of his or her response. In my experiences, I have found that people who have been disabled for three years or less are much more optimistic than the more chronic cases of five years or more. Then again, there are many people who build determination and more importantly, faith and belief, along the way who gain more of a vision for walking again someday.
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Thanks for listening!!
Scott & Pratiksha