Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Don't Let The Measurements Of Your Chair Measure You

Not a single day goes by where I don't realise that I am in a wheelchair. This is stating the bleedin' obvious. Hopping out of bed every morning and into the chair. Hoping my dog isn't sitting underneath the wheel when I move. Loading the chair into the passenger seat before I drive my car. These are the everyday things that I do with my chair that are a reminder but not an examination.

I am in the process of being measured and fitted for a new wheelchair and it is a draining experience. What tyres would you like? What brakes would you like? What angle do you want your spine tilted at? What colour do you want? Do you want mud guards? Do you want arm rests? How high do you want your knees raised? How long do you want the seat to be?

I am being measured in centimetres and inches. I am thoroughly being examined.

Every other day, I can brush off the fact that I am in a wheelchair but when you have to describe to the millimetre what you need, you're being asked to look at things that you normally try to brush past and forget. Or, if you don't know what you want, you are being told what other people have and it's suggested that you go with it.

I made the grave error in asking for an arm rest that's strong enough for me to sit on at concerts. Being at crotch level means that I need an extra bump to see the stage so this request makes sense to me. "You're not meant to be sitting on arm rests. They're not strong enough." Oh, Lord! If they saw me swinging out of the arm rests during Kelis' set at Electric Picnic this year or even sitting on them so I can reach the wine glasses on the top shelf in my kitchen, then they would know that they're doing the job.

The initial design of a wheelchair is never my actual intention. I have said so many times that there is no blueprint for disability. I am in no way delicate. I fling myself about. I climb, I roll and I tumble and I need a chair that can do all of that with me.

Getting fitted for a wheelchair is like being fitted for a permanent office chair. It's in a fixed position so what you order is what you will be sitting in for the majority of the day. In work. In the pub. Walking down the street. Going to your friend's house. Stumbling home at 6am. Your permanent office chair is there and you want it to be perfect. You don't want to feel restricted by your chair and in my case, when the chair is lying flat on its back on a beach and me roaring laughing, you don't want your chair to prevent whatever unplanned rolls and tumbles that lie in your future.

Imagine being presented to a plastic surgeon and being told the options of what you could change about your body. Initially, you don't think that you have any body issues but when the list goes on and on...well, you definitely don't feel like a Kardashian by the end of it.

Unfortunately, so many people look in the mirror and do not like what they see. Sadly, today is one of those days where I have to stare at my reflection and examine every square inch of me and the chair. It's the grand admittance of having a chair. It's not just me anymore. I come with spokes, wheels and - rules be damned - soon I'll come with arm rests strong enough to sit me and whoever is sitting on my knee.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

(Online) Dating With A Disability

Just under an hour ago, I was on Spin 103.8's Spin Talk to discuss this email with presenters Lauren Kelly and Gordon Hayden:

A couple of weeks ago I started chatting to a gorgeous guy on Tinder, conversation flowed really easily and turns out we’ve got lots in common.
Eventually I plucked up courage  to ask him out on a date, but before we were  to meet he told me he had something important to tell me and wasn’t sure how I’d take it. I immediately thought he might be married or had kids..but when he told me that he was in a wheelchair,  I was really shocked and if I’m honest my heart sank.
I don’t know anyone who’s disabled and just kinda freaked out about it, but decided to give it a go. We met for a coffee and I was deliberately late because all I could think of was how he’d get in the door, what if the tables were too high?  I was so self conscious the entire time but he was so cool and easy to talk to.
He’s asked about meeting again but as much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think I can deal with it. I always thought I was a very open minded person but maybe I’m not I hate myself for being so shallow.  Maybe I’ll get over it. Should I give this guy another chance?  Thanks.

They had given me a couple of hours to think over what I was going to say and, boy, did I.

I'm in the middle of writing a piece about Tinder and dating* that has nothing to do with wheelchairs or disability so I am full of ideas and, it turns out, rage.

On air, I said something along the lines of this:

You’re asking if you should give him another chance. Yes, you should but should he? Absolutely not.  
As you said, he is gorgeous, easy to talk to and cool but all you could focus on was the wheelchair. You are so quick to deny yourself this great guy all because of the chair.
Tinder dates are weird and everybody has some anxiety going on one but you went through with it - so well done. You worried about the right things - will he fit in the door and are the tables too high. You thought about things that you’ve never thought about before and that’s brilliant. If you need other accessible dating venues, well, read my blog Legless in Dublin. 
Tinder is a massive platform for shallow and superficial behaviour. We all do it. Sure I swipe left in anyone comes up in an Abercrombie t-shirt. We are putting our appearances and basic level of interests up for judgement. However, if you met this guy at a party or through a friend, you may have overlooked his wheelchair or I might even overlook an Abercrombie t-shirt if he ended up being really, really sound. Tinder removes the benefit-of-the-doubt and we go for surface judgements too quickly.  
People that don’t go out dates with people because of a wheelchair or a disability or missing out on many things. They’re missing out on meeting really nice people or really horrible people. This guy could be the greatest or he could be an absolute womanizer but you will never know. 

I'm often asked about dating with a disability and I feel as if I have to provide a spreadsheet of all the men I have hooked up with and why it went wrong. I am single and I know it's not because I'm in a wheelchair. I'm single mostly because I'm a bit of a dickhead and I have a low tolerance for idiots. That's the bottom line on that matter.

The tone that is normally given in these interview situations is that the non-disabled person is exploring new territory. No, you're not. People with disabilities can be sluts too! We're just like you!

I have to give credit where credit it due and the presenters didn't pander to any stereotypes or condescending opinions towards people with disabilities. They spoke honestly and respectfully. Thank you. Not many people in the media can do this.

I was surprised by the positive reaction from the texters too. A lot of people thought this girl should cop on and they mirrored my thoughts that this guy could probably do better. One texter did say this though:

"It takes a very special person to do that [date someone in a wheelchair] and I couldn't do that". 


When it comes to dating,  no one should ever have to prove to someone that you are worthy of their time.  But for people with physical disabilities, these attitudes are great ways to cut the assholes loose at a rapid pace.

If you come across someone on Tinder or in real life that you sort of fancy but they have a disability, just go for it. There is nothing difficult about it other than choosing an accessible date venue and, luckily, you have my blog to help you out with that.

*Editors, this piece is a hoot. You should commission me for it.