I'm not wheelchair-bound, I'm free

Why being a wheelchair user is a gloriously positive experience (most of the time)

I'm not wheelchair-bound, I'm free

March is Cerebral Palsy awareness month, a time that is close to my heart as somebody who was born with the condition.  But what, I hear you ask, actually is cerebral palsy? Cerebral Palsy (or CP for short) is a condition that ranges in severity and is usually caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain at birth; however, you can also acquire the condition throughout life through a brain injury. There are four main types of CP: Diaplegic, ataxic, athetoid, and hypotonic, although no two people with the disability are the same and some individuals have what's known as mixed CP where the person has more than one type.

1 March is also International wheelchair day, a time when wheelchair users across the world celebrate their independence and how glorious access to a mobility aid is!  Some non-disabled people believe that a wheelchair or a disability such as cerebral palsy is a barrier to life, but as a 20-year old woman who uses both a wheelchair and has had a disability for the duration of my time on the planet, I can assure you that those stereotypes couldn't be further from the truth.

Wheelchairs are freedom, they allow us to participate in society whether it be going to live music events as I like to do, going for coffee with friends, or even just grabbing the weekly shop. Wheelchairs are not barriers themselves, but rather it's the ableist attitudes and lack of accessible infrastructure that presents itself as a problem to those of us with mobility aids – this isn't something that disabled people should be made to feel guilty or ashamed of.

When I got my first powerchair my world completely changed. At first, I was adamant that I only wanted my manual wheelchair, I somehow felt as if a motorized wheelchair would mean I was lazy or somehow incapable. However, now I can see how much it changed my life. Suddenly I didn't have to get someone to leave the house with because I couldn't push myself, I meant I could experience real independence.

Personally, whilst I am proud to be disabled, I don't necessarily feel it, I am as able as my environment allows. For example, If I was heading to a nearby coffee shop and the whole route was wheelchair friendly, the venue had an automatic door and level access to help with anything I needed, this makes my environment disability friendly and my actions would be no different to those not in a wheelchair. On the other hand, if on the way to that coffee shop, there were multiple crossings that didn't have dropped kerbs, the coffee shop didn't have an automatic door, and staff weren’t on hand to help, this environment would exacerbate my disability, and make it harder to carry out the actions of others in my environment.  Unfortunately the latter is all too common, and this is why many people perceive mobility aids and wheelchairs, as well as disabilities, as a barrier to life, rather than access being a barrier to us.

Particularly on social media, many people use phrases such as “I’ll pray for you”, “such a shame” or even “You’re too pretty to be in a wheelchair” (I mean excuse me? Disability and being hot aren’t mutually exclusive *rolls eyes*) but whilst these statements may not be served with bad intentions they certainly aren’t the compliment you may have thought you were writing. Disabled isn't a dirty word and everyone should feel comfortable using the term unless a specific disabled person tells you otherwise. You shouldn’t modify language just to make yourself feel more comfortable around disability as the chances are you’ll just make the disabled person uncomfortable too and slightly cringed out. (Pro tip: don't use terms like differently-abled or wheelchair-bound, contrary to popular belief I'm not tied to my chair, I’d rather you just threw up on me in all honesty.)

Having cerebral palsy and being a wheelchair user has given me not only a career but an opportunity to fight for equal rights that I may not have found otherwise. Whilst many may believe my disability to be something to overcome or pity (oh the ableism) my endless stories of music festival fun, days out and the occasional drunken night suggest otherwise!

Header Image Credit: "Brewmaster's House - ramps" by ell brown is marked with CC BY 2.0.


Faith Martin

Faith Martin Kickstart

Faith worked as a freelance journalist for a year after finishing her studies at Portsmouth College, writing for a number of esteemed publications as well as running her own music blog before joining Voice Magazine as a Kickstart Trainee Journalist. An avid vinyl collector and gig-goer, Faith also campaigns for disability rights and better disabled access at live music events.

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