Ending up or beginning.

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Yet again, I find my thoughts provoked by Andrew Farrow's very fine blog, which coincidentally touches on similar thoughts about wider social perceptions toward those of us in wheelchairs.

In Andrew's case, he makes reference to people asking how he ended up in a wheelchair. Like Andrew, I have absolutely no difficulty in talking about all aspects of my spinal cord injury, perhaps even when people would rather I didn't. I wrote a book about it, fer goodness sake.

That said, it is interesting how some people feel that it is a perfectly reasonable question to present to a relative stranger ( I have just had to re-type that, as it came out first time as stranger relative). It's difficult to know where the line is drawn. Would people ask of an amputee,
"How did you lose the leg, then?"
Although this is perhaps a poor comparison as many amputees wear prostheses that serve a cosmetic as well as functional purpose. While I may be guilty of some measure of wheelchair vanity, I could never be accused of trying to disguise my paraplegia (I should like to point out at this point, that I am NOT suggesting that wearing a prosthetic limb is some kind of preening exercise in vanity. As evidenced by a double-amputee friend of mine gleefully explaining that legroom on long haul flights is no issue for him. He simply removes his legs and has them stashed in the overhead locker, thus enjoying business class room for economy prices).

As far as questions go, I am always happily surprised by the level of curiosity shown by children, something I applaud heartily. My hope is that in sating this early curiosity, we can produce a generation more aware of the issues faced by disabled people.
But where it gets tricky is for people who have been in a wheelchair all their lives. For those of us who have had some experience or contact with spinal cord injury, there can be a tendency to assume that everyone who is on wheels 'ended up' that way. Far from it, as I have been embarrassed to discover on a number of occasions when I realised that my SCI world does not encompass every wheelchair user. On such occasions, I feel like such a Jonny-come-lately.
It's also frustrating when one accident seems to be the defining moment in one's life, as if people will never see beyond it. People who know me will often behave exactly the same toward me as they used to before I became a wheelchair user, and that's great, but when someone only  spends a relatively short time in my company, I can sometimes find myself volunteering the information, as if I feel the need to say "I'm one of you." This forces me to question how my attitudes towards disability have or haven't changed.

But there is another, more emotionally charged scenario to consider. In my time working with other spinal cord injured people, I have met a number who suffered their injury as the result of an unsuccessful suicide attempt. So, with such possible circumstances in mind, lets get back to the complexities of asking, "How did you end up in a wheelchair, then?"

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Thanks for the heads-up Tim! You make a good point about the age question: not everyone in a chair has had a spinal cord injury. I've not yet made that faux-pas, but I'm waiting for it to happen...

"How did you end up in a wheelchair, then?" Cool question. I love this stuff!

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