AS a wheelchair user, I get a giggle out of people's reactions when I'm trying to pick my way through a dense, busy crowd at a concert or in a bar or club. Due to the music and loud chatter, I often have to tap people on their backs to ask them to move out of the way. There's a very telling moment when they turn to see who's bothering them or trying to push through.
When they notice me, just below their eye line, and spot the chair they all, without fail, become super helpful and jump out of the way.
Often I find the most boisterous or drunken ones transform themselves into my very own crowd plough as they take it upon themselves to clear a path for the chap in the chair – as if they were my own personal bodyguard parting the throngs like Moses going swimming.
This is an example of why I'm lucky to be in a wheelchair; not because of some "everything happens for a reason" waffle, but because, generally speaking, I get to see how it brings out the very best in people. Not just in busy crowds where a little help goes a long way, but in all aspects of life.
A wheelchair often creates an opportunity to cut through the small talk.
It focuses people's optimism and forces them out of their comfort zone and into a space of sharing, of personal battles and triumphs.
People are generally very upbeat and share the most wonderful stories with me all the time. Sometimes their tales are tragic, but mostly they illustrate how life isn't a movie that one should watch passively but rather a dance we share together, a rich, dynamic adventure. And it is! I know. I'm having an epic adventure so far.
A wheelchair can conjure up negative connotations. It can be an icon for illness or with a little more thought, it can be viewed as a symbol for triumph over adversity, a testament to the human spirit's drive to survive and ability to adapt.
We all have our crosses to bear, and in my case it's paralysis from a road accident, and not my wheelchair. Rather, the chair is this marvellous mobility aid that helps me in all the ways it was intended, but also serves as a magic wand that turns total strangers into helpful companions no matter where I go.
Now if only we could all get our heads around treating people with mental illness with as much support and help.
It seems a shame that you might need to borrow my chair to get the same consideration.