Able-Minded in a Disabled Body: Try Shopping From a Wheelchair

Let me tell you about some of my first shopping trips.

I was about 14, and we lived in Dublin, California. I was at the age when I loved to shop and just hang out with my friends. My mom didn’t always have time to take me shopping and places for fun because I had little brothers, and they needed my mom as well. The boys didn’t like to get in and out of the car a lot, and they really liked to stay home, so they could play with their friends.

So my mom let me drive my wheelchair to Target or my friend’s house and back home. The stores and my best friend’s house were close enough, so my mom could get to me if I got into some kind of trouble.

The bad part was that cell phones were not as popular back when I was a kid as they are now, and you had to use pay phones. My mom had me carry a note with me that had my name on it and our phone number on it. If I got in trouble, I could give that paper to a clerk or somebody and have them call my mom.

As a young girl, I was scared to go to Target on my own the first few times because I didn’t know how people would react to me. I don’t remember getting called names at that age. People would just laugh, and they would just stare at me, like I didn’t look normal, or as if I had no right to be in town at all.

The staring used to make me nervous, and there were a few times that I would want to run back home. I would really want a new purse or something, and I would get what I needed or wanted as quickly as I could, so I could just leave the store.

As I got older, some people would yell at me, and they would yell from their car doors things like telling me I’m a stupid little girl, or I shouldn’t be let of the house because I’m a crippled girl who can’t speak clearly.

I used to let it get to me, and it would really hurt my feelings to the point that I would cry on my way home. As I grew older, I didn’t worry about what people did or said to me because I was starting to know who I wanted to be in my life. I had started to realize that people were not very educated about disabled people at all, and that they acted the way that they did toward me because they didn’t know any better. So, I had started to overlook some of the rude comments and the rude looks that people make as I would roll by them in my wheelchair.

Most abled-bodied people have it easy, because they can drive a car and they can go shopping when they want. And when they go shopping, it’ s a whole different experience than what my husband and I have. We both have cerebral palsy, and use wheelchairs to get around.

Most able-bodied people probably have good hand control, and they don’t have to worry about breaking or dropping merchandise.

Also, if an able-bodied person takes something off a rack, she can just put it back on the rack.

Let’s say the abled person is interested in buying a book, so they pick it up and look at it, but then they decide to not to buy it. The abled person can simply put the book back on the book rack. But for a dis-abled person, they put it wherever they can reach, which is sometimes on a lower table or surface, and then feel guilty about it.

Then there’s the matter of actually getting to a shopping place. I started riding the bus a lot more after I had moved back to Redding from Davis. I discovered that some of the bus drivers are not very nice at all, probably because a passenger like me is more work for them.

First then have to get the ramp out. Then I have to drive my wheelchair on the ramp. Next they have to push a button to lift me up into the bus, then they have to tighten down my wheelchair so it will not move as the bus is rolling.

I have heard some bus drivers cuss as they load me up because they don’t really want to deal with my wheelchair. I have had some bus drivers ask me to wait for another bus, when I know that they have room to put me on their bus. When things like this happen, I get very angry at the bus drivers because I know it is their job to take me where I want to go. It is how they get paid. It is called work for a reason and I maybe some bus drivers understand that.

As I have said before – and I will scream it until the day that I pass away – the average abled-bodied person doesn’t understand what it is like to be disabled, especially in a wheelchair. I wish sometimes that abled people would think about how hard it is for the disabled to shop. And I wish they knew that it’s OK sometimes to lend a hand when they see someone like me  having problems.


Melinda Kaiser-Curtis lives in Anderson with her husband, Geff, and the couple’s three dogs. She enjoys music, writing, reading, swimming, working on the computer, shopping and watching movies.

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