The Wheelchair Experience

I never imagined what an eye opening experience this was going to be. While conducting a simulation in a wheelchair with my partner Chuck, I had some very interesting, embarrassing, exhausting and informative incidents that I can use to my personal and professional advantage. I will provide an analysis of skills demonstrated while conducting the simulation along with specific examples to enlighten you on the experience. I have taken into consideration the environmental barriers that we experienced along our often-agonizing journey and will present a description of various architectural barriers, ecological barriers, and transportation barriers. Social reactions and personal reactions to the wheelchair experience will be stated thereafter. I will conclude with professional implications and strategies that will help people without disabilities enhance their attitudes about people with disabilities.

Getting oriented with and accustomed to using a wheelchair seemed like it was going to be as easy as getting on a bicycle and pedaling away. At the start of our simulation my partner and I didn't fully understand how challenging using a non-motorized wheelchair can be. We knew quite well that it doesn't require an astronaut to operate a wheelchair but we sure had some troubles getting acquainted with the basic functions of the wheelchair we were using (i.e. how to apply the brakes properly). That made us feel like, well, let's just say that we didn't feel like the sharpest pencils in the box!

We rented a wheelchair from a local medical supply store that was fairly new and had only been used once or twice before, according to the store clerk. When my partner and I set out to begin our wheelchair simulation we both had to grab one armrest from each side of the wheelchair and force it open because it was so rigid. At that moment we felt like we might have some problems with the wheelchair while conducting our assignment. I began the first four hours of our simulation in the wheelchair and was also first in experiencing some of the difficulties with using the wheelchair. Since it was practically brand new, I was the one who had to break in the wheelchair. The seat of the chair was so uncomfortable and stiff, which made me wonder how my partner and I were going to last four hours each sitting in it. After the first hour my buttocks were aching and my legs went partially numb. This made it challenging for me to concentrate on our simulation, to move around and to remain in the wheelchair for the duration of my time. Since my partner, Chuck, is taller with longer legs than me, he experienced twice the pain and discomfort.

Aside from having had difficulties getting accustomed to being in a wheelchair, we also experienced difficulties for lack of knowing how to apply the brakes properly. I had some pretty embarrassing moments as a result of not knowing how to secure the wheelchair properly using the wheel brakes. My partner and I both took two forms of public transportation (BART and bus) on each of our turns. When I boarded the BART train I found a wheelchair accessible space to station myself and thought that I had put the brakes on securely. When the train started moving I began rolling backwards into to aisle. I kept myself from falling over by grabbing onto one of the train seats. I almost broke character by nearly standing up to prevent myself from falling, which wouldn't have helped any in an already humiliating situation as passengers looked at this apparently disabled guy in a wheelchair.

As if that wasn't an embarrassing enough situation for me, a similar situation occurred when I was riding the bus. Positioned facing the front of the bus with a seat belt fastened around my waist, I began plunging forward when the bus hit the brakes to make a stop at an intersection. The only thing this time that kept me from having an utterly degrading experience was that the seat belt around my waist had stretched out to the max and locked up, which prevented me from taking a spill in the middle of a crowded bus. In this situation the bus driver was partially to blame for causing