I took my sweet mamma Christmas shopping today. Living in a nursing home, she relishes every minute spent outside of it. A trip to the mall or restaurant or park is such a treat for her.
She had a major stroke 5 years ago that left her completely paralysed on her right side. She is amazing. She is fiercely independant and manages a good deal of her care, even using a swiffer to maintain a spotless room. She has had to relearn everything including eating with her left had and gaining mobility in her wheelchair.
With an exception of losing a few words now and then, this courageous woman is right on the ball.
Which is why I wanted to mention a couple of things that drive people in wheelchairs crazy.
Don't get me wrong. Most people mean well and are wonderful. Others I think are uncomfortable or just have no idea.
1. Please address them personally. Even if they look like they cannot speak, it doesn't mean they don't understand. If they don't understand, usually their caregiver will step in to interpret.
But always give it a go.
Today the waitress came over and said to me "would she like desert?". I replied "I'm not sure. Mum would you like desert?" (note the cue....I asked her a question, she can think for herself) to which the waitress then said "would she like more coffee?"
This is when I get snippy and say "why don't you ask HER"
2. Don't baby them. If they are an adult speak to them as you would to any adult.
My mum doesn't do baby talk.
3. Don't raise your voice. Their mobility is compromised not their hearing.
4. Allow a wide berth if they pass you in an aisle. Often if they go too close to the shelves, something can get knocked over.
5. Hold the door even if there is a wheel chair button. Sometimes the button is beyond reach (my mum only has use of one hand) and they slam shut quite quickly.
6. If you are a server and you get an odd request, don't point out the oddness. Yes, we need a straw with a hot coffee and a pile of napkins sometimes. Don't need to draw attention to it. I can't tell you the times we ask for a straw and the server says, "You want a straw with a hot coffee?".
7. Talk to your children about disabilities and why someone may only have one stiff hand or a missing leg or a droopy face. Kids will stare at people who are different, but usually out of curiosity.
My mum doesn't interact with the world at large on a daily basis, so she simply loves it when a child waves or says hi to her.
8. Always ask if they need help to reach or get by. I don't anyone in a wheelchair would be offended if you respect their right to say no thanks.
9. Treat them as you would every other person. Today we were walking by the perfume counter and everyone was offered a spray except my mother. I said to the lady "oh my mother would like a spray" to which my dear old mum (a stroke causes you to lose you inhibitions) says "it smells horrible". The girl laughed and I bet next time she will not bypass the mobility challenged.
10. Do not ever, ever, park your car blocking the cut in the curb leading to the entrance. Sometimes if this area is blocked, you have to go all around to another mall entrance. I don't even have to mention sneaking the wheelchair parking space. We often park in a regualr space and walk a bit, but the issue is not the distance sometimes, it is that you need the wide space to transfer safely into the chair without dinging the door of a mercedes.
11. Select gifts appropriately. Individually wrapped chocolates for instance have to be opened with one hand and the teeth. Not so easy. One year someone gave my mum a sheepskin muff. They kindly thought it would work well for her paralysed hand rather than a mitten. My mum was horrified claiming that no one ever wears a muff and neither is she. She then suggested we let the cat sleep on it.
People in wheelchairs just want the respect and courtesies afforded them before they were in one.
They absolutely don't want to dress differently or be treated differently.
Shopping can be tricky since I can't push the chair and a cart. Today we bought the cat a new bed and placed it on mums lap and filled it with her shopping bits.