I always pick the slow line at McDonald’s at the worst times. My stomach screaming for French fries, a small Filipino lady and a large Samoan clerk are fussing over what size coffee was just ordered. Neither of them can understand the other. Knowing that the clerk has a 1-in-3 chance of bringing back the correct size I just want to say, “Hey! Instead of arguing just go get one of all three sizes and let the woman point!”
Since I’m not that assertive, I sit there in my wheelchair and swallow my gum hoping to momentarily fool my stomach. It’s not stupid. With nothing better to do, I notice that the top of the little lady’s head is actually a few inches lower than mine. Suddenly I feel taller, even though this woman is short — like Prince short, even if he’s got a Raspberry Beret on.
It occurs to me that I have never felt slighted because of my height when I am sitting in a wheelchair — and why should it? I never felt a feeling of superiority when I was still walking a fairly tall 6 ft 2.
Yet frequently I read about wheelchair users who think it’s a disadvantage to be lower than eye-level with someone who is standing. So wheelchair makers go out and look for ways to boost the wheelchair user, creating all kinds of “standing” wheelchairs or wheelchairs that can rear up on two wheels to put the sitter’s head at the same height as the stander.
Let me ask you this: If you’re still sitting or “standing” in a bulky, robotic contraption, does it REALLY matter that your head is at the same height as the person you’re talking to? Will that person suddenly treat you differently because they don’t have to tilt their head down to talk to you anymore?
No. You’re still in a fucking wheelchair. It’s not about the height. Get over it.
Prior to using a wheelchair myself, whenever I interacted with someone in a wheelchair, I recall still being able to have a normal and interesting conversation with them, absent judgment, even though their head was still two feet below mine. If someone is going to feel weird about conversing with you, it’s not because you’re head is lower, it’s because you’re in a wheelchair in the first place. Being in a wheelchair that’s a few feet higher up isn’t going to change that.
I get the impression that this whole “not being at eye-level” thing indicates that the person has not quite accepted the fact that they have to use a wheelchair. Acceptance of a disability requires accepting all the things that come along with it — no matter how inconvenient or out of the ordinary. True, some things, like discrimination, are worth trying to change, but changing the height of your ass isn’t going to change the minds of someone who’s going to judge you anyway.
So instead of trying to make wheelchairs taller, I wish wheelchair makers could make one that had a built in ramp, or a seat warmer, or a place to charge my phone, or a variety of other actually useful things.
After all, if you want to have a better conversation with someone who is standing up, you don’t need a taller wheelchair, you need to read some books.