10 truths about being a wheelchair user

From access issues to annoying experiences with strangers, being a wheelchair user brings with it its own unique quirks, as well as positives. Disability Horizons writer, Raya AlJadir, shares 10 truths about being a wheelchair user from the perspective of a woman. How many of these ring true for you? Watch our video and share your experiences by leaving your comments below.

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1. Fashion is tricky if you’re a wheelchair user

Throughout my life, I have struggled to find the right clothes and shoes because of being in a wheelchair. As a teenager, I loved the idea of wearing high heels. But doing so would have changed my already compromised posture dramatically and I would have seriously struggled to support myself at all.

I also loved long evening dresses. But these are problematic too as they’re incredibly likely to get stuck in the wheels. I was a bridesmaid at my friend’s wedding and my outfit included a long scarf. It looked beautiful, but I had to fold it into several layers and wrap it around my arm to stop it from getting tangled in my wheels.

2. You often get the best seat in the house

As well as annoyances, being a wheelchair user has its many positive points, too. One of them is sometimes getting the best seat and a great view of the action. It also means that you don’t have to sit in the venue’s seat, which can often be uncomfortable, I’ve been told. Instead, I can stay in my chair, tailored to my posture.

View of a stage from seat

3. You get lots of stares – sometimes from men

You will, regularly, be started and gawped at by strangers – it’s the norm. However, as a female wheelchair user, I seem to get more stares from men. It always makes me feel far more uncomfortable than when women and children stare. It is as if they are examining me with their eyes. It’s also rather confusing – are they looking at me because they are interested in me, or is it the usual wheelchair curiosity?

4. You’ve got to keep your wheels clean 

As my wheelchair is my constant companion and goes into my home and bedroom, it is essential that my wheels are kept clean. I, therefore, have to be extra careful when driving outside to avoid anything that could result in a massive clean-up job. The worst offenders are mud, chewing gum and dog poo.

Avoiding these isn’t always straightforward, and I have experienced issues several times. I once had to endure a really bad smell on my wheels for days, as well as funny looks from people who thought it was me that smelt.

5. You can get to the front of the queue

Another positive of being a wheelchair user is being offered to skip the queue, whether it is at the theatre, museum or even in some shops. I, of course, take them up on the offer. It would be rude not to!

Long queue of people

6. Visiting the hairdresser isn’t easy

Getting my hair cut, dyed or styled has always been a challenging task. Most hairdressers get quite flustered when they see a wheelchair user coming! Even if the saloon itself is accessible and step-free, the hairdresser can sometimes be reluctant to cut my hair because they struggle to get around the wheelchair.

I also can’t get my hair washed at the hairdresser’s sink because of my wheelchair’s backrest. Nothing a little ingenuity can’t fix. But some hairdressers are far more phased than others.

7. Your wheelchair will share your food

Whenever I go out for a meal, I find that the tables are a wide variety of heights. They are either too high or really low. Either way, I often need help to reach my food. Because of this, in most situations, my wheelchair ends up with the majority of my meal all over it! People can usually tell what I had for dinner by the traces of crumbs.

8. You have to be on high alert to avoid people walking and texting

As well as being alert to avoid running over smelly obstacles, I have to be extra aware of people who walk while using their smartphone. Being totally absorbed in their phones means that simply don’t look where they are going. As the wheelchair is not at their height, they often don’t realise they are walking straight into it and me. So I either have to shout or try and swerve to avoid them.

Woman texting and not looking where she is going

9. You set alarms off

If you are an electric wheelchair user, then you will know very well how whenever you enter or leave a shop, the security alarm will beep. So, as if I haven’t already had enough people stare at me, I get the security staff and anyone in the vicinity looking at me with suspicion, as though I have used my chair to shoplift. Although I explain that the alarm is sensitive to my wheelchair’s batteries, I am still asked to open my bag for it to be searched.

10. Many of your friends’ houses are off limits

It’s the most obvious and biggest issue associated with being a wheelchair user – so many places are off limits. But this isn’t only the case for public spaces. I am unable to go to many of my friends’ houses as they are not accessible. When you’ve known someone for 20 years, it’s a bit weird when you have never visited their house.

By Raya AlJadir

Do these sound familiar to you? Share your experiences by leaving your comments below, messaging us on Facebook or tweeting us @DHorizons.

More on Disability Horizons…

Raya Al-Jadir

A fellow at the Carter Centre for Mental Health Journalism, Raya writes about culture, literature and health for Disability Horizons. As a freelance writer, she has worked with a range of publications, such as The Independent, Huffington Post, and the UAE The National newspaper. She also runs her own blog, Careless.


  1. Getting on and off buses is a challenge and lots of drivers can’t be bothered putting the ramp down for you

  2. I can relate to a lot of these, although I am able to transfer quite easy so hairdressers are not a problem. (apart from getting really uncomfortable if they take too long.) My brother recently moved to a block of flats and I thought that I’d not be able to visit him again…but the flats are really wheelchair friendly which is great…until the lifts break down. If I visit I always have to call first to check the lifts are working.
    Great insights here, I hope it helps non wheelchair users to understand a little more of what it’s like. x

  3. Many so called accessable toilets are out of bounds because compliance with rules has slipped. In particular baby changing and multiple huge bins obstruct the wheelchair space and turning area.

  4. Taking your comments in order: –

    1) Forget fashion. Go for comfort. I recommend track suits. Available with designer labels, if necessary. Most importantly, machine washable.

    2) Your ability to get the best seat in the house will often attract a small posse of friends who can assist you in getting into place and, as a reward, enjoy your unrestricted view. But don’t push your luck with this.

    3) Return any stares with an simple, honest, disarming smile. You’ll be amazed at the number of people who smile back. If they look away, screw them! The simple fact that you’re surrounded by a fair bit of ironmongery should make you feel bolder.

    4) I recommend WD40 as a solution for all indiscretions. Chewing gum, dog poo, squeaky wheels, it’ll cope with them all. It’s now available in large cans with an integral straw, so do can direct the spray accurately and without wastage. Don’t leave home without WD40. I keep a large can in my rucksack at all times.

    5) Agreed re: queue jumping, although this rule breaks down as you travel further away from the UK. For example, don’t try it in a railway station coffee bar in Italy. You need to develop a hide like a rhinoceros and sharp elbows before embarking on any exotic foreign travel.

    6) I recommend trying your local hospital for hairdressers. They are familiar with people in wheelchairs and will often be cheaper than the high street chains. My wife and me still visit the hairdresser in the hospital I was in nine years ago.

    7) I recommend taking a wipe-clean bib with you when you eat at a restaurant. You may look infantile when you’re wearing it but it’s far preferable to spending all evening with pasta sauce down your shirt front.

    8) Smartphone zombies are the #1 menace to people in wheelchairs. In order of effectness try simple one-ping bicycle bell, a tring-type bell, a bulb horn, or the ultimate deterrent: – an air horn.
    Nothing beats the sadistic pleasure of snapping a SPZ back into the real world!

    9) Enjoy the attention and try not to resent the jobsworths who are only following the procedures written by others. Their procedures are at fault if they can’t deal with disabled people with dignity. I handle it by delivering a much practiced sarcastic monologue about their job
    being a pervert’s dream. Meanwhile, make a mental note to vote with your feet/wheels and take your custom elsewhere.

    10) There are advantages in always being the host. No driving, so nobody has to stay sober. You get to eat your choice of food and the toilet facilities and their state of hygiene are your own.

    1. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t asking for advice. From a man. Lol. Thx tho.

      1. And I wasn’t giving advice. Just giving non-gender specific comment from my experience as a wheelchair user.

  5. I know this may sound trivial to most of you,but could you advise me.I had a RTA in 1979,my spine fractured my skull,scraped my brain,I had meningitis,I now have Epilepsy and other health problems,one of them is balance when I`m walking,I have nearly been run over a couple of times because I`ve walked straight out onto the road,so I purchased a mobility scooter,its been heaven since I`ve had it, but would people who have real mobility problems be offended if,they saw me get off,I do use a walking stick, but then I can walk very well. When I had the meningitis, fluid around my brain was coming out of my ears, and our ears control our balance,so that’s why I have balance issues.

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