Last week my friend Jesse and I went out shopping to a store we like where we know a number of the staff members. Jesse took her walker rather than wheelchair, principally because it is easier for me to drive and load the walker in my car, than it is to load the wheelchair into the minivan.
One thing that happened as we were leaving the store is the staff person said to Jesse, “It’s nice to see you up,” as in upright, not using the wheelchair.
This is a microaggression. (link to Wikipedia).
First, the assumption that an acquaintance or even stranger has the right to comment on your assistive tech, on your presumed health status, on your body– that you would even want to know what some stranger thinks. But people do this all the time and they think it’s a good thing. They think it’s welcome praise, that is a nice fuzzy compliment.
They think it’s praise because they value being upright and walking over using a wheelchair, even though it is a value-neutral distinction. It may be better for you and your self-care to use to the wheelchair, but hardly anyone will praise you for that. You should use what will work best for you, cause you the least pain, not what society values.
They think it’s praise because they think it’s an improvement in health status. This demonstrates an incomplete and failed knowledge of chronic illness, mobility impairments, and assistive tech. Many people who use assistive tech use that tech occasionally or periodically, and again, it is value-neutral to do so. Diseases get worse and they get incompletely better. It happens. And sometimes you use the tech for more practical reasons that have nothing to do with your disease/impairments, but rather to do with the barriers that exist in society. Maybe walkers or walking sticks are easier in the airport than your wheelchair is, for example, even though the wheelchair is more comfortable. Maybe you don’t want to risk the airport damaging or losing your expensive and valuable wheelchair. Maybe you’d use your wheelchair all the time if society didn’t suck so much.