6 Annoying Reactions To My 72 Hours In A Wheelchair

The Banker and I have just returned from a fantastic long weekend in NYC. In my day to day life, I use a walker or cane, but long days of traveling call for my convertible walker/transport chair, Optimus Prime. So, for 72 hours I had the concentrated experience of hearing the questionable things people feel compelled to say when they see someone unexpected (young? pretty? cool hat?) out for a push in the park. Here’s a sampling of some of the mouth garbage we heard.

1. “Can she walk a little, or..?”

The first questionable comment came at airport security when the dude in charge of scanning our bags decided to speak to The Banker instead of me. I’m not sure why he assumed my ears, mouth, and brain didn’t work, but it felt so satisfying to loudly declare, “You can speak directly to me”. He apologized. 

2. “You have to go across the street to the second floor”
We arrived at the Shubert Theater on Broadway, full of excitement to see Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly. Fortunately we got there early, because when I asked about the bathrooms I was told the ‘accessible’ ones were across the street. On the second floor. Of a busy restaurant. It would have been nice to know this ahead of time. Like, when I booked accessible seating for the show. There would be no champagne at intermission. 

3. “Nice seat”
In addition to those who talk to wheelchair users’ companions instead of engaging directly, there are those who infantilize and treat you like a little kid; who will touch you and pat you on the head. During my dry intermission, a woman approached me, rubbed my back and told me I had a nice seat. Like I was 5. Was she just trying to be nice? Maybe. I don’t care. This is weird. Unless you’re my mother, please don’t touch me and there, there me. You don’t know me. 

4. “Esti intr-un scaun cu rotile”

While rolling down the street, an old Romanian (probably?) woman rushed me saying something along the lines of the above. Technically, I don’t speak Romanian but I’m pretty sure she was saying “You’re very beautiful.” Look it up. 

5. “That’s the best way to see New York City.”

At the end of a long day, in the elevator at the hotel, a weary woman looked at Optimus longingly and said the above. The Banker was not having it and told her so. She doubled down and continued complaining about her sore feet. The Banker told her not to complain about walking, to someone sitting in a wheelchair. Like, duh. This seems pretty obvi, but you’d be surprised at how many times I’ve heard some version of this. Lucky for her, we arrived at her floor and she left the elevator in a huff.

6.This would have been a lot easier if you could stand.”

Oh, really? Please, tell me more about how this affects you. This pissy comment came from the crusty TSA employee who’s job it was to give me a pat down/deep-cavity search at airport security. She seemed really put out that I couldn’t balance without a cane. So, I made a scene. 

Despite this rant, I’m not actually a bitter, old, wheelchair lady, hell-bent on politically correct language. I get it. I’m different and for some reason, people need to point that out. I’m still getting used to this new version of myself, and the reaction it provokes in others can be frustrating. I’m learning to roll with it for the most part, but  I don’t think my big, loud mouth is ever gonna let it slide when it’s way outta line (TSA lady, I’m talking to you). 

Traveling with MS requires a little extra planning and patience but it’s worth it. And, it wasn’t all side-eyes and throwing shade. We had many positive experiences. We encountered one NYC traffic officer who was exceptionally friendly and helpful, an excellent ambassador to the city and others who were eager to make sure we had a comfortable and easy time in the city. 

Mad love to The Banker, who is a pro at navigating OP through the city, in and out of cabs, boats and bars and never, not ever, makes me feel like any of this sucks for him. 

New York, I still love you.

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16 thoughts on “6 Annoying Reactions To My 72 Hours In A Wheelchair

  1. It is tough to see things like cities in a wheelchair. I could say it even sucks. I could go so far as to even say it changes the entire experience. It is not "easy." It does not make it into a "fun" experience. I don't know what some people are thinking. *sigh* Perfect. Loved your take on it. Next time tell me when you'll be out in the East coast!

  2. I ADORE Broadway but I have been feeling super riled up ever since I saw your post about the bathroom problem on Insta. I keep randomly remembering it and getting mad and telling whoever I'm with at the time about it. Is this actually ADA compliant? No one should have to skip intermission imbibing for a stupid reason like this! There, I'm all worked up again.

    Love your writing, as always!

  3. I am in a wheelchair and travel to New York a couple times a year with my husband. I have experienced most of the things on your list. Some of the stupid things people say are unbelievable. I can actually anticipate what they are going to say before they even speak as a result of the dumb expression on their faces. Yet, we keep going back because the good outweighs the bad and we tend to have a ridiculously good time drinking and eating. The true born and bred New Yorkers can be awesome. They tend to be the ones that don't stare especially since we are younger than average disabled people. They come out of nowhere to hold the door open and then quickly take off. I have experience them pushing the back of my wheelchair to get me over a rough city curb cut and then disappearing. Your writing is fantastic. Please keep it up. I look forward to your posts.

  4. Thanks Lisa. The chair is a strange new thing, but it's allowing us to do so much more than we could when we traveling on foot and I needed to sit down every few minutes. It would definitely feel less weird if people/strangers weren't reacting to it all the time.

  5. Thanks Kayla,
    We saw a show on Broadway in January and I wasn't anticipating that the theaters weren't accessible (being from Toronto where we've updated our old theaters) and so we showed up with tix in the balcony but were upgraded to the orchestra which I thought was great. This time we were at a different theater and I was shocked about the bathroom situation. Broadway needs to fix this or at the very least put a huge disclaimer on their website so that we can know this ahead of time and plan accordingly. This must affect so many people! Ok. Rant over. Thanks for reading!

  6. I totally agree. The real New Yorkers are used to diversity and they seem to embrace it. I'm so glad to hear NYC has been good to you. It really is a magical place and so, so worth it. I will be back!

  7. I wonder what would have been the reaction of the woman who rubbed your back, if you slowly rose from Optimus Prime as she rubbed you and said,
    "Tis a miracle, you have cured me".
    Or otherwise you could have arched your back and purred as she rubbed you.

  8. I had a small chuckle when I read this. Yes, people can be dicks and say insensitive things. It's always when you slightly differ from the norm in anyway do you notice these observations.

  9. I'm going back and reading your previous posts, Tripping on Treacle. Always funny!

    Har! Har! Now I want to go to NYC. My wife goes but I haven't for a while.

    I've had a bit of this when using the airport wheelchairs and their assistance when flying. The airport wheelchairs suck! The Air Canada ones are about one and a half people wide and very difficult to propel myself even though I use bicycle gloves.

    We're going to get Nexus cards soon to make things easier.

    Love your posts and your dry sense of humour!

  10. Hi Allan,

    Thanks so much for reading – but you are at Tripping On Air. (No treacle here – I'm more of a maple syrup kinda girl).

    You're so right about the gigantic airport chairs. I feel swallowed up and sad every time I use one.

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