I noticed on my trip last weekend that a lot of times when strangers approach me with some sort of remark about the wheelchair, it’s because they’re trying to create connection and sometimes it’s worth letting that develop.
I was hanging around the gate waiting for a plane when an older gentleman stopped and commented on how nice and light my wheelchair looked. I said something like, “Well, it keeps me on the move,” but in a tone of voice that didn’t shut off conversation. Encouraged, he told me that since he retired from IBM he’s been working with Whirlwind Wheelchair International doing in-country training. It was an interesting discussion and he was heartened to hear that I’d heard of Whirlwind and know who Ralf Hotchkiss is (“Oh, you know Ralf?” “No, I just know who he is.”) He also showed me a nifty little magnifying sheet he’d made to use with his little netbook (a true engineer).
Later, at the same gate, my son and I were both sitting in regular seats with all our feet propped up on the chair, and a lady sitting near me asked if it was my chair or his. This turned into a conversation about her son and his traumatic brain injury. She seemed relieved to be able to talk about his poor impulse control, emotional lability and tendency to fatigue, things many people don’t understand are problems with TBI.
They were both conversations I was glad to have had (although later my son turned to me and said, “Why do you get into these things?” – but that’s teenagers, right?).
I’ve also answered a lot of scooter questions/had discussions with others. I am pretty immediately able to hone in on whether it’s nosiness about disability or whether someone’s perched ready to ask for more info about how to get one and what to look for (for themselves or another person). Most scooter users don’t seem to know their equipment well, though, and I enjoy finding people who are as nerdy about equipment as I am (specifications really make a difference to usability/accessibility).
I didn’t know about Whirlwind–I’ll be reading more.