Sunday, April 6, 2014

Advice: Addressing the Harm in Thinking We Are Trapped In a Wheelchair

I have a swimming shift tomorrow! I’m so excited! It’s been ages since I did one. And they’re always my favourites.

I think because, for my clients, a lot of them are trapped in their chairs - and a lot of clients at swimming shifts especially, because it’s usually those with limited means of communication, let alone control over their body. I think, for those that enjoy it, it’s a way for them to be free of their chair, to just be somewhere with people and be close to weightless and just settle down with only hands pressing you instead of wood and padding and whatever else the chairs are made of.

I hope your swimming shift went well! (And I hope you don’t mind that I’m lending my perspective to this post.)
First, the notion of being “trapped” in a wheelchair. Just because that’s what you would feel being in a wheelchair doesn’t mean that’s what we feel (and I’m using we in the general sense, knowing that I obviously can’t and don’t speak for every single person with a disability.) You know what it’s like to walk unaided. For you, that’s normal. For you, being in a wheelchair would indicate loss. Maybe it would mean a feeling of being confined or trapped and a general loss of independence.
For someone in a chair, in all likelihood, using a chair is what is normal to them, too. It is for me. For us, it does not indicate a loss, at all. Because our wheelchairs actually liberate us. Without them, is when we would feel the most trapped, the most dependent, the most vulnerable. Does that make sense?
That being said, there IS a sense of freedom in the pool for me. It absolutely CAN mean awesome different sensations, seeing things from a different perspective, and being able to get in with others and participate on a new level. There’s also that vulnerability I spoke of earlier, though. Maybe you’ve experienced it with a client who is nervous in the water. I know I get nervous, too. Because we are without our chairs which give us freedom and independence, and we are relying on you to keep us safe, and that can be scary, especially if we don’t know you well. I always appreciated the reassurance I got from whoever was in the position to help me (whether an adaptive PE teacher or a camp counselor.)
Anyway, just thought I’d contribute my two cents to your post, and I hope the swimming shift goes well for you and everyone!