On Being ‘Cool’ When You’re in a Wheelchair
On Halloween this year, I dressed as the Marvel Comics superhero Daredevil. Blind lawyer Matt Murdock by day, and superhuman vigilante by night, Daredevil strikes fear into the hearts of his enemies as the guardian of Hell’s Kitchen. He is one of the most iconic characters in comics, and he’s even excelled to multimedia fame thanks to the excellent Netflix television series, which just aired its third season. We don’t talk about the infamous 2003 movie with Ben Affleck.
I chose this costume for several reasons. For one, Daredevil is one of my top five superheroes, and his origin story, “The Man Without Fear,” is one of my favorite comic book storylines. Secondly, strangers have occasionally referred to my service dog as a seeing-eye dog, which would make me blind and in a power wheelchair. I thought that dressing as a blind character would be a fun way to subvert these people’s ignorance.
Most of all, though, going as a character like Daredevil makes me feel inexplicably cool. I posted a picture of myself in costume on Facebook, and people loved it. Instead of comments like “Looking great buddy!” or “You’re an inspiration!”, people just liked the photo or said I nailed the look of the character. The baton you see in the photo is the pole that my parents and caregivers use to take my ceiling lift on and off its railing. All of my assistive technology can really come in handy for things like Halloween and cosplay.
Here’s the thing: It can be hard for people with disabilities to feel “tough” and “cool” in a society that still has a tendency to exacerbate numerous stereotypes about us. In a genuine effort to be nice, many people often come across as condescending when talking to folks in wheelchairs. They say things like “Good to see you out buddy!”, when the wheelchair-user who they’re talking to is a bearded 25-year-old who watches shows like “Sons of Anarchy” and listens to hard rock.
I don’t mean to sound harsh here. If you’re an able-bodied person and don’t know many people in wheelchairs, you really don’t have to overthink it when you’re talking to us. Just speak to us like you would anyone else, and understand that not all of us are 5 years old.
For those of you who do have a disability and want a few quick tips on how to elevate your cool status, allow me to help. After all, I do have a robotic arm mounted to the side of my wheelchair which impresses everyone around me.
Prepare witty one-liners
If an able-bodied person tells you how good a driver you are, say, “Thanks, you’re a good walker.” If someone complains about how they’ve been sitting for hours and they have a sore butt, say, “You get used to it.” If someone stops abruptly in front of you and jokingly says, “Don’t run me over!”, say something like, “I’ll try, but I did just receive my license.” Quality one-liners can reveal a person’s wit and confidence, and they can instantly change a stranger’s perception of you.
Take pride in your wheelchair and other devices
When it comes to pretty much anything, a good attitude is key. Part of the way I project disability as “cool” is by taking pride in the various technologies I use every day. When I got my current wheelchair, I posted a picture of it on Facebook with the caption “Sneak peek of my new Batmobile.” When I’m wrapped inside my Hoyer lift sling like a cocoon, I joke that I look like Tom Cruise in the first “Mission: Impossible” when he breaks into the MI6 headquarters and is suspended in mid-air. And of course, I regularly show off my JACO robotic arm at every opportunity. I even used it to dance with a girl at a wedding earlier this summer.
Don’t correct people when they ask if you’re Stephen Hawking
Forget the fact that the man died earlier this year. If someone asks you this question, reply with an oversimplified description of quantum physics and I can guarantee that your “cool” status will be sealed. Or you can just do what I did and dress up as a cool character like Daredevil on Halloween. Either way, being cool is more than attainable when you’re in a wheelchair.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.