Shucks, not Disabled

Of all the people in the world, my eldest would be the least likely to be dismayed by becoming a “wheelie”. Every time we visited the science museum in Denver, dad and I could always count on at least a solid hour of book-reading time as the kids played with the wheelchairs in the Discovery Zone.

When a staph infection on one knee got especially nasty (round, red and swollen, requiring repeated expulsion of alarming amounts of pus), we scheduled a visit to the doctor. In addition to getting antibiotics and analgesic, there was a good-natured enquiry by the patient if this might not earn the doc’s permit for a wheelchair? After all, mobility was definitely impaired — hobbling between bedroom and bathroom was difficult — and definitely meant unable to hike around the hilly campus. Well, replied the doc, were it both knees he would.


So, time to take the semi-disabled student back to college. I packed up the “Bug of Holding” with the overnight luggage, and we went back to the campus. The swelling made it difficult to bend the knee as well as to put weight on it, which meant that any footwear with laces, zippers or heels was extremely difficult to put on or use. Well, that was essentially all the footwear currently owned, so we stopped by a Target store to get some sandals. Hobbling inside, we espied three wheelchairs lined up near the shopping carts (buggies, trolleys), one of which was motorized.

I was surprised to hear some initial concern about whether the store would allow someone who wasn’t Officially Disabled use one. We were just borrowing one of the regular chairs, not the motorized one, of course they would, I answered. Besides, if anyone gave us grief, they could always be shown the big nasty, which by this point was doing a rather disturbing impression of a mammary gland, “nipple” and all.

So we went down the shoe aisles, and I noted with relief that the aisles were not only wide enough for the chair to get around easily (including U-turns), but also that the store did not have the sort of display clutter at the end-aisles or within the aisles that some stores feel compelled to put everywhere. This is one of the reasons why I prefer shopping at Target (compared to K Mart, or the big-bad-bully of retail, Wal-Mart); the stores are relatively free of excessive visual complexity or navigational hazards.

My eldest quickly realised that some half-gloves would be really helpful if there was going to be much wheelchair usage. That wasn’t the only accessory that would have been required, either.

Of course, there was the reaching issue. I was there to hand things down as we shopped for shoes, and then for some groceries that could be kept in the dorm room, as the dining hall was a hilly block away. I realised ruefully that I should have brought the reaching tool from home; it had been my mother’s, and all I used it for was fetching socks that fell behind the washing machine. Had I not been there, the options would have been trying to use that lightweight reaching tool (likely as not reaching up to tip a can off the shelf and then catching it), or trying to stand and sit back down repeatedly (ow!), or relying upon the convenience of other shoppers or a store clerk to hand things down.

There was also the basket issue — one simply could not carry all the necessary shopping items on the lap or tucked between thigh and seat edge. I suppose a person could grab one of the hand baskets, assuming that they had enough lap space when seated. I’ve also seen people pushing carts while seated in a wheelchair, which given the handlebar height and the basket depth of American carts, makes both maneuvering and unloading difficult.

Given that we were using the wheelchair because someone had less mobility and was less able to get out and around, I realised with some horror that a shopper would perforce end up being able to fetch fewer items in a shopping trip, and would thus require more difficult trips to the store. And of course, then one would have to get the stuff back to a vehicle or to a public transit connection (assuming that there were any in the city, and that they went to the places where one needed to go). Some of the less-implicit secondary difficulties of disability were becoming apparent to me.

Not wanting to leave the wheelchair outdoors in the cart corral (trolley bay) where it would be at the mercy of the spring weather, I carried the bags out and then pulled my car up to the exit doors to fetch my limping passenger. I reflected that shopping had just become a very complicated endeavour. We were however, very thankful that the store had free wheelchairs for patrons to use, and that the one we grabbed was in good working order, and that the aisles were easily transversed. These things are not difficult to provide, but of course that doesn’t mean they are found nearly as often as they should be.


  1. 12 April 2011 at 5:28

    Wheelchair as a toy? Is that what you mean? Maybe the child playing it doesn’t know how hard being in the wheelchair since they are still able.. I am not in favor with using wheelchairs in playing…

  2. fridawrites said,

    18 April 2008 at 21:39

    I haven’t sorted out how I feel about the medical exhibits in science museums–I’ve been in two. I’ve observed kids use them as toys without seeming to get the actual limitations since they are really still able. What I found more difficult was kids playing with casts and x-rays–it made me feel really ill, maybe because of the strong association with pain. Similarly, I’m sure my sister and I making crude Braille notes for one another to read and talking to each other in sign language really didn’t model those disabilities either but instead focused on the novelty and immediate difficulty of difference. The more difficult part would have been the accessibility issues, which is not something we “got” at all.

    People were often wanting to borrow my crutches when I was pretty young or even saying they wished to be like me (maybe mostly because I was only able to go to school half days for a while, had to have others help me out).

    Yep with the shopping issues–my basket doesn’t hold much!

  3. qw88nb88 said,

    14 April 2008 at 23:40

    I don’t know if they still do or not; we’ve not been there in a few years. When we travel, we like to visit bookstores, science museums, gardens, zoos and such. (-:

  4. LisaDroesdov said,

    14 April 2008 at 22:59

    Your museum has wheelchairs to play with? I’ve been working on talking to my niece about disability (age 7) and I need to find an exhibit like that for her!

  5. 14 April 2008 at 7:28

    That is the oldest stereotype of disability in the book that it equals a wheelchair.

    A Wheelchair is a tool, like a cane, a pair of glasses, an augmentative communication device etc…… one of these day’s I’ll be needing one myself.

  6. Grace said,

    14 April 2008 at 2:04

    Most of the stores around here have motorised bike things with baskets on the front rather than proper wheelchairs. The baskets are not huge (maybe the size of a handbasket rather than a cart), but it certainly sounds a lot easier than just using a regular wheelchair.

%d bloggers like this: