Chair Woman

bio_dave_hingsburgerI was in my power chair, my manual was parked beside it. On the back of the manual was my wheelchair bag and we’d placed our ‘keep everything cold’ bag on the chair’s seat. We always take my manual chair when we go to a place like the ‘EX’ because it carries things and it’s always an extra seat for Joe, whose feet get tired, or the kids, who find it easier to wait while sitting in it and chatting. They are the only three people who have ever sat in that chair, the only three people who have permission to sit in the chair. It’s my chair.

I think a lot of other wheelchair users have unique relationships with their chairs. I treat mine with respect, I look at it, sometimes, with wonder, its power to make me free, to let me go places, to allow me to work and travel. I feel possessive of it, in the same way I feel possessive about other personal items of mine. They are mine.

I’m not good with strangers putting their hands on my wheelchair handles without my permission, which I never give. Touching my chair is like touching me. If I don’t know you, don’t presume. I know to you it’s an object but it’s much more than an object to me.

All of this to say, I really pissed off a woman at the ‘EX’ while I was in my power chair with the manual parked beside it. The girls and Joe were on a ride together and I was watching them on it. I probably had this big sloppy grin on my face because I loved watching the kids have fun, but it was even more fun to watch Joe alternate between laughing and sheer terror. Then a woman came along side me, pushed the bag on the manual chair’s seat back and began to sit down. I said immediately, “You can’t sit there!” She stood up, looking to me for explanation. “The chair doesn’t belong to the CNE,” I said because you can get a chair at the park, “it’s my personal chair.”

This didn’t register with her and she began to sit down again and I said more forcefully, “It’s my chair, please don’t sit in it!!” Now she was angry. “No one is using it right now,” she said angrily. “I understand, but it’s my chair, I’m sorry, it’s not for public use.” She called me selfish, she threw ‘fat’ and ‘lazy’ in there for good measure but I didn’t care. It’s my chair. It’s very personal to me. I wouldn’t lend her my pants or my underwear even if they weren’t presently being used, so I’m not letting her use my chair.

For a long while after I questioned myself about what I’d done. Was I selfish? Was I churlish? I don’t know. But I’ve decided I’m allowed to feel about my chair what I feel about my chair. I don’t have to explain it to a random non disabled person who sees my chair as simply an object to be used.

The social aspects of disability. Sheesh, no one gives you a guidebook.

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