When You Protect My Wheelchair, You Protect My Body.

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez

photo of a plane flying towards the sun.  Wheelchair users want to fly safely in peace

When you protect my wheelchair, you protect my body. You don’t have to be a genius to grasp this concept. Yet society is filled with people who can’t understand it. Worse, they feel righteous in telling us that we are wrong in thinking that our wheelchair is an extension of our body.

My wheelchair helps me get around the way non disabled people use their legs to walk around. Simple, right? My middle school students can understand that. So why do airline companies allow their employees to throw the chairs around like a piece of garbage? Would non disabled people like it if the airlines hammered their legs as they are on boarding and off boarding the plane? I think not!

Yes, the companies allow this! You can’t argue that with me. You see, if they cared about my wheelchair then they would have a safe process for protecting my wheelchair throughout my entire travel with them. I wouldn’t see horrific videos on social media as airline employees purposely break wheelchairs and even laugh about it. You have to wonder what kind of people they are. Simply calling them jerks isn’t enough for me.

Lack of Consequences

I want to know why they are mean. I want to know what the disabled community did to make them treat our life support like this. I want to know why the airline companies think they should get away with this behavior. Yes, they think they should get away with it because not much has changed. I want answers.

My fellow wheelchair users shouldn’t have to witness their mobility devices thrown around and returned to them in pieces with an insincere apology and a stack of forms to fill out. What if an employee broke a passenger’s legs? Would they give the passenger a fake apology, pass them paperwork, and leave them on their own? Could you imagine the outrage in society?

But if it’s us, then it’s a different story, right? Since the employees don’t need a wheelchair, they don’t care. How would they (the owners and employees in the airfare industry) feel if it was their loved ones thrown around like that? Or if we did that to them? Breaking my wheelchair is like breaking their legs. Painful and immobilizing.

Airlines Aren’t the Only Culprits

Airlines aren’t the only negligible ones. We can point a finger at anyone who comes into contact with wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Even the people who sell the wheelchairs have been known to damage them.

For example, prior to 2020 lockdowns, I was in the process of getting a new manual wheelchair. The rep of a nationally known wheelchair distributor stood and bounced on the footrest of the new wheelchair. Within weeks of using my wheelchair, the footrest broke and I slipped. I fractured my right hip area. What possessed him to do that?

Later, his employer brought a Quickie representative to tell me that I was incorrectly using my wheelchair footrests. I suspect it was their way to avoid liability.

Apparently for over four decades, I wasn’t supposed to use footrests to transfer from my chair to the toilet. Hmmm…who knew? I guess they wanted me to float like a ghost.

Oh wait! If that was true which it isn’t, then why did their representative stand on it? Why did he jump up and down on it like a pogo stick to demonstrate how strong their wheelchairs are?

Wheelchair companies should be our allies.

Lately, I can’t even go on social media without reading about a disabled consumer’s issue with wheelchair repairs or wheelchair service. It’s almost always with the same main companies. It’s scary thinking that they are profiting from us while holding some of us hostage at home until they are good and ready to service our chairs.

The rare times when I read something amazing about mobility device companies is when the disabled person is a paid spokesperson for that company. That’s one way to get positive reviews. Sign me up! Give me an expensive wheelchair that goes up and down and all around for free with quick and free repairs and I will praise you everywhere, on top of a mountain or big cities streets.

But I’m not there yet. So for now, I’d appreciate it if mobility device companies sincerely treated their clients with respect.

People who Interact with Wheelchair Users

Wheelchair companies aren’t the only ones who interact on a regular basis with wheelchair users. Public transportation companies, hospitals, care givers, and even friends and family members of wheelchair users need to understand that our wheelchairs are a part of us. They are not just a piece of equipment that we can easily replace.

When someone damages our wheelchair, it’s not just an inconvenience. It’s a violation of our personal space and independence. It’s a reminder that we are not seen as equal members of society. We should file charges against them for assault. Maybe that will make everyone in society take our concerns seriously.

Do you know how many times people come up to tell me they understand my life after they’ve sprained a part of their body and they felt “disabled”? Do they only understand me only when they’re in pain? That’s weird. They should understand me when I want to enjoy life just like them because physically disabled people are humans just like them.

The Importance of Accessibility

Accessibility is not just about having ramps and wider doors. It’s about respecting the needs of people with disabilities. It’s about creating a society that values diversity and inclusion.

For wheelchair users, accessibility means having the freedom to move around independently, without fear of discrimination or injury. It means being able to access public transportation, restaurants, and other public spaces with ease.

But accessibility also means being able to trust that our mobility devices will be treated with care and respect. It means knowing that our wheelchairs will not be damaged or mishandled by the people who are supposed to help us.

Tips for the Non-Disabled Community

For the non-disabled community, it can be difficult to understand the importance of protecting someone’s wheelchair. But there are some simple steps you can take to show your support:

  1. Ask before touching or moving a wheelchair. Wheelchairs are an extension of our bodies, and touching them without permission can be invasive.
  2. Be mindful of obstacles and hazards. A small step or uneven pavement can be a major obstacle for a wheelchair user.
  3. Respect our independence. Offer assistance, but don’t assume that we need help.
  4. Advocate for change. If you witness mistreatment or neglect of a wheelchair, speak up. Contact the company or organization responsible, share your concerns on social media, or contact your elected representatives to demand change.
  5. Don’t assume that you know how to maneuver them better than the person who uses them every day.

Protect Me, All of Me

When you protect my wheelchair, you protect my body. It’s a simple concept but one that can make a world of difference in the lives of disabled individuals. For wheelchair users, our mobility devices are not just a convenience, they are a necessity. They allow us to move around independently, to access public spaces, and to live our lives with dignity and respect. By treating our chairs with care and respect, you are showing us that you value our autonomy, independence, and dignity.

So the next time you see a wheelchair user, remember that their wheelchair is an extension of their body. Treat it with care and respect, and you’ll be showing your support for a more inclusive and accessible world.

And on a personal note, please let me travel safely in peace.

Be sure to read my article from several years ago. It’s my experience buying one of my wheelchairs. Click here.

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Audacitymagazine.com is a lifestyle magazine for physically disabled people. Thank you for your support.

Feel free to contact the airlines and share your feelings.

American Airlines