Written by Melanie Hawkes – PDA WA Associate Director
I received my first power wheelchair when I was three years old (almost 40 years ago).While it is a struggle some days (when my support worker can’t come to get me out of bed, for example), it helps to have a positive attitude. There’s no point complaining about what I can’t do. My parents raised me with a can-do attitude, and I am grateful for what I have.
I don’t need pity. It’s not a “shame” or “a disaster” (an actual comment from someone recently) that a childhood illness paralysed me from the neck down. I am fortunate it happened before I turned two, so I don’t know what I’m missing. My wheelchair doesn’t confine me. In fact, I quite like having a physical disability. I have a great life.
There’s actually many advantages of having a wheelchair. So many, that I compiled a list:
- * I always have a seat. Crowded bus or train? No problem. The only time I wish I didn’t take my wheelchair everywhere is the cinema. The leather recliners look so comfortable. (On a side note, why should I buy a ticket when I take my own chair?)
- * I never get sore feet. I can walk my dog, wheel to the shop and sit in a queue without getting sore feet at all. And no, my bum doesn’t get sore from sitting down all day. I have a very comfortable cushion.
- * Got lots to carry? I’m your girl. I can carry shopping bags on the back of my chair and drinks on my wheelchair tray. As long as I’m not too wide for standard doorways, and I don’t hit a bump and spill my drink. That is why you don’t drink and drive, right?
- * Parking is amazing. As long as you have your ACROD parking permit, you can choose any big blue park. They’re conveniently located right by the door of the shops, library and cinema, so you never have to “walk” far.
- * I get a Companion card. Every time I book a ticket to a show, sporting event or ferry ride I get a free ticket! This is so that I don’t have to pay for my support person to attend. I wish airlines would honour it too.
- * Some of us are lucky enough to get assistance dogs. They are trained (and licensed) to go everywhere, including on public transport, in shopping centres, restaurants and the cinema too. They can do a range of tasks to assist, like picking up dropped items, opening and closing doors, taking my shoes and socks off, and pressing lift buttons. It’s great being able to go everywhere with your best friend. My dog Upton isn’t licensed now, but he still helps me at home.
- * I never have to pick up dog pooh, or clean the house, or iron clothes, or wash the dishes. My support workers get paid to do that!
- * I never have to sit on a cold toilet seat. I have a nice padded commode that I can move out of the cold bathroom, or sit under the heat lamp to do my business.
- * I can’t faint or fall over and hurt myself. Or trip over a cat or slip on wet floors. Especially handy when I’ve had a few drinks. I can still swerve and hit something, but not as painful as falling on the floor (I imagine it to be).
- * I can’t be taken in the back of a police wagon. Well they could try, but I wouldn’t be much good without my wheelchair. I was on holidays once and noticed the town’s police station had steps up to the front door. You beauty, I thought to myself. I could get away with all sorts while I’m here. I can’t get in the station if I’m arrested!
- * My pants won’t fall down. I can wear clothes that are too loose, have a stain or tear at the back, or if they’re too tight, have the zip undone! I’m sitting on them, so you wouldn’t notice. I have two skirts that have small tears at the front. Now I wear them back-to-front! My mum scorched the back of my year 12 ball dress, on the day of the ball. No problem, I still wore it, nobody knew except us.
- * My shoes don’t get worn out. They last many years, unless Upton chews them when he pulls them off. If I’m sick of wearing some I pass my old shoes on – they’re like brand new!
- * I can’t burn my feet on hot pavement or sand, or step on broken glass. That’s gotta hurt! I get someone to check the temperature of the floor before walking Upton on hot days.
- * I always have a driver. I have a van that my support workers drive me around in. No matter where I want to go or how much I drink, I always have someone to drive me places. Or I get public transport or a maxi taxi. But either way, I have a driver take me places. I like not having the responsibility of driving, but I do have a back-seat driver’s licence!
There is plenty to love about having a physical disability. I’m grateful for all my support workers who help me with the things that I can’t do, and for the NDIS that pays for them.
Can you think of any others?