Sunday, 12 April 2015

“People In Wheelchairs are Weird”

“People In Wheelchairs are Weird”

Yes, somebody actually said this. Horrendous isn’t it?

Let me add some context to the comment.

A young friend of mine uses a wheelchair. He’s a bright kid with a wicked sense of humour and was attending one of the children’s programmes last week. In his team was a little girl who asked a few questions about him and then announced, in surprised fashion, that he was actually quite ‘normal’. One of the leaders in the team gently asked why she was surprised by this. Her answer was worrying: “My mum says people in wheelchairs are weird. But he isn’t”.

Now, I’ll be honest - I don’t know the context in which mum has said this, and how the understanding of a young child has changed what was actually said. But what stands out is - a 7 year old child really believed that wheelchair users are weird.
The dictionary meaning of weird is: “Suggesting something supernatural; unearthly. Very strange; bizarre.”

Let’s face it though, there are weird people around! It’s not the sole preserve of the physically disabled. Weird people who become Christians are often not cured of their weirdness. 

So what’s wrong with being weird? As Christians, there is a supernatural element to our faith, so on that level - we’re all weird!

I suspect that what was meant in this comment wasn’t the dictionary definition.

This comment was passed on to me not long after I had a strange, but amusing  conversation myself. An elderly gentleman came over to talk to me and said  "You know you need to exercise every day? People get into these wheelchairs, give up and get really fat....."

I took this comment for what it was - an elderly gentleman with a particular view, and I responded graciously, pointing out that I was an ex nurse and understood the need for ‘appropriate’ physio.

These two things are just a couple of examples of many things I had said to me, or heard reported by others, but they give a good overview of what is known as “Ableist Thinking”.

But, what I was more concerned about was the comments either unsaid, or made obvious through actions and conversations. I will cover some of those things in another post.

But here’s one example, I asked a guest to open a door for me so I could get to the Big Top, and was greeted with “The Big Top doors don’t open for another 10 minutes, so no I can’t open the door for you.” Now, maybe he was cross at being turned away himself because it was too early and took that out on me - It might have been anyone who got the brunt of that and the wheelchair was nothing to do with it. But I persisted (In the absence of anyone else to open the door!) by saying “It’s ok, I’m a volunteer and have to be in the Big Top before the doors open.” even on seeing my badge, and the radio I carried he wouldn’t take my word for it, preferring to believe that people in wheelchairs don’t serve or minister. I gave up and waited for another person to help me get through the doors.

Tomorrows post: Christians who stroke arms.

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