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Day 328: So Your Friend Has Just Become a Wheelchair User, Now What?

handicap symbolSomeone I know via a Facebook group has a friend who’s in the hospital recovering from a car wreck that has turned him into a paraplegic. This group has absolutely nothing to do with disability but she mentioned it anyway for no other reason than it’s a group full of amazingly supportive women. Even though my disability isn’t a spinal cord injury I have been a wheelchair user most of my life so I gave her my advice on how to support him based on my own 30 years of disability and the lengthy conversations I have been fortunate enough to have him with people who do have spinal cord injuries. It occurred to me this morning that some of the things I’m aware of are not common knowledge for most people so I decided to expand my one or two paragraph explanation into a full blog post because maybe there are other people who could use the information as well.

 

  • The world as they know it is over. I am not trying to be cynical or pessimistic, from the moment they got into that accident nothing will ever be the same again. They have to relearn how to get dressed, how to put on shoes, socks, pants. Everything you thought you had down pat before you started kindergarten is brand-new all over again. At some point they will probably want to hit things, throw things, etc. as long as they are not doing major damage to themselves or you let them.
  • They really aren’t exactly the same person you knew before the accident.Implying that you see no difference whatsoever  may upset some people because everything in their life has taken such a drastic change it may feel as if you are denying the obvious and even if you are meaning to be supportive it can feel patronizing.  Try something like”I know your heart is still the same and the rest is just an oppourtunity for creative  solutions.”
  • People they thought were their good friends will suddenly disappear. They will disappear because the new reality is scary and maintaing a friendship with someone in a chair can feel more labor intensive. I’m not going to tell you this isn’t true. Everything requires way more thought and planning when you use a chair. Is that place you used to hang out at all the time handicap accessible?If you didn’t know the answer before you’ll discover very quickly that the answer is really important now Being a good friend definitly means paying attentio to things like accessability.
  • If you say you’re coming over do it. Remember what I said about people disappering? This is how it starts…friend says they will come hang with newly disabled friend soon except soon never comes. When friend is asked why  they haven’t been around at all in six months excuses often abound working over time no gas etc. I’m not saying these things are never actual reasons but if you have to miss seeing them call and explain and preferably have a rain check date to reschedule. If they  don’t do thay then chances are good you are being avoided because the friend is uncomfortable around you. Do not be that person. You may think it won’t bother them that badly but  I can tell you from my personal experiance, do it often enough  and  no matter what your reason/excuse they will start thinking its better not to ask you to hang out because you are just going to find an excuse to ditch them.
  • Be prepared to become an advocate. I  know no onr asked if you wanted the job and disabled folk can and do advocate for themselves but being in a close relationship  of any kind with a disabled person means you will probably find yourself  being an advocate at some point. For instance before Oz, my boyfriend met me broken sidewalks, sidewalks with no ramps, or no sidewalks at all, were barely  a blip on his radar. The presence or absence or state of disrepair  didn’t affect him. Four years with me has made it a pet peeve. Same thing can be said for service animal access. Disability can make us feel alone in a world which only begrudginly accomodates us. We aren’t asking people to fight our battles for us but rather to stand with us.
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