The Sheffield wheelchair day started after I arrived at the office, somewhere around mid-morning. Being wheeled around was initially very novel and entertaining, although this went south almost immediately. It took about 15 minutes to discover a few fundamental problems I'd not considered when I signed up for this...
This canvas seat isn't nearly as comfortable as I was expecting I can't pick up things I've dropped I can't reach more than 2 feet out forwards for more than a few seconds Nothing fits in my pockets
The Sheffield office is just over the road from the train station; we were going for a quick run to M&S to see a little what life was like in a wheelchair.
I was completely unprepared for how much space a wheelchair takes up in a crowd - even though loads of people in M&S moved out of our way on sight, we still couldn't move forwards without constantly asking to be let through! There was just no way to manoeuvre the chair without invading people's personal space, or (in a small supermarket) be in everyone else's way because I can't move myself out of the way of blocking the shelf.
Back at the office, I had to - very embarrassingly - jump into my team's private Slack channel and ask to be wheeled to the Accessible Bathroom. This ended up happening a couple of times over the course of the day, and always felt unpleasant.
Don't get me wrong - my team is brilliant and I love working with them, but having to put myself to the mercy of other people to handle a fairly basic bodily function was a deeply uncomfortable thing to do.
I originally signed up for this because I thought it would be equal parts eye-opening and a bit of fun. Several members of my family have been in wheelchairs long-term, and I was interested to see how that would feel.
Being a wheelchair is *hugely* more difficult than I expected.
The scope and scale of the tasks I couldn't manage independently struck me hard, and I felt I'd only walked just a few steps in someone else's shoes. I rankled at being left totally reliant on other people for tasks I never used to even think as tasks - moving around the office, joining a casual desk meeting or getting a glass of water were suddenly difficult at best, or ~required~ help from others otherwise. Even though my day had been very straightforward - I didn't have dozens of meetings to move between, a tight schedule where I need to move quickly from place to place, I didn't need to present anything or really move much at all - it was still a frustrating day, where the little things I never considered (like getting a drink when I'm thirsty) couldn't be solved ad hoc, but instead needed coordinating and planning.
I really appreciate having the chance to try wheeling around in - let's remember - a very lighthearted and safe environment. I had frequent help moving around, I didn't have to wait more than a couple of minutes for someone to take me to the bathroom, and I was still comparatively very autonomous. I cannot imagine what life would be like long term, especially in a more challenging environment.
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