Blog posts by Maree Ireland

Not being 'confined' to a wheelchair

Jul 6, 2017

I find the above saying stupidly amusing but also very annoying.

For clarification I ‘googled’ a definition of ‘confined’ and found the following:

  1. limited or restricted.
  2. unable to leave a place because of illness, imprisonment, etc.

I often hear this phrase on the TV or read it in the newspapers after a person has had a serious accident, or has contracted a life-changing illness, and at first I cringe; then I think how stupid it really sounds. But I’ve thought, is it just people’s way of coping with people ‘living in a wheelchair’ by putting us in a place where it justifies their feelings of pity, or where they think we need to be put so that we can’t be visible, or a contributing member of society?

I remember when I was about 6 or 7, I first saw a manual wheelchair which had big wheels at the front. I could move myself around and I felt a sense of freedom which I had not known. Until then I had to sit in pushers and chairs with small wheels so people had to push me around - that’s when I did feel ‘confined’. But even then, I had to get out of the chair to use the bathroom, go to bed etc.

Back in the 60s and 70s, wheelchair accessibility was not often thought of, so in a way I can understand how people thought wheelchair users were ‘confined’ to their wheelchairs. Today with increasing wheelchair accessibility, hoists and lifts, people can get out and about, and out of their wheelchairs when needed.

In the early 1970s, I turned my attention to motorised wheelchairs, much to the apprehension of my parents. My first motorised chair was black, big and bulky. I was in it less than 5 minutes and I was off around the block. I used this chair for several years; then I turned my attention to a scooter. I had been using that for a while until one day I went up the street to the local shops and I clipped the gutter and over I went. After I knew I was not injured, I asked someone to ring my parents to come and pick me up. I wasn’t sure what was worse, the actual fall, or the lecture I was about to get from mum and dad!

But we got through it and we agreed that scooters weren’t my thing. So I went back to motorised wheelchairs which have assisted me to live through many years.

I do understand when people have accidents or illnesses and face the prospect of being in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives how it can be thought of as being ‘confined’.

...but I just really wish people would start thinking of it as ‘living in a wheelchair’.