Today was our official second month anniversary with the new found love in my life... the gym. I can see you now staring in disbelief at your computer screen, 'love' and 'gym sitting harmoniously together in a sentence? As ever let me explain.
Yes, indeed, the gym is the master slave driver, god of sweaty armpits and the governor of unsightly wobbly bits but it is also a mystical land filled with often the finest forms of the male species that this Earth has to offer. Perfectly formed pecs, Adonis like abs and bewilderingly pert bottoms are a feast for the eyes and a very enjoyable way to spend a leisurely Friday afternoon. That is until you find yourself having to interact with one of these unfamiliar creatures. Staring opened-mouthed looking like a diaphoretic fly-catcher seems fine but when actual conversation rears its ugly head it seems to become impossible to string a sentence together. Especially when you’re sitting there perspiring uncontrollably and wheezing like a deflating balloon while he's standing there like he's just walked out of a Hugo Boss advert.
Well that was me today, blazing beetroot with sweat patches developing in places I didn't know existed, awkwardly babbling at a tousled haired, green eyed beaut.
Surprisingly through all my fears it seemed to be going well. He was smiling, I was laughing, I mean you could smell the sexual tension in the air. Then something catastrophic happened, he opened the beautiful mouth of his and out came the words “you’re actually really pretty for a girl in a wheelchair”...
My internal conflict spiralled into meltdown. He said I was pretty! My inner self-doubting doppelgänger stood up straight, flicked her hair and fist pumped the air all while wheeling to Timbuktu and back. I was elated, that is until she got squished by the unpleasant realization he used 'that line'.
If you use a wheelchair you will understand my upset but if you don't let me enlighten you. I have several problems with 'that line', Firstly the word 'actually'. This implies surprise. They might as well say 'wow, from afar I expected you to look more a bridge troll'. Secondly the phrase 'for a girl in a wheelchair'. Really? I mean REALLY?! It's like people expected wheelchair users to be un-kept, have bad hygiene or not be physically attractive. When in reality only a few of us have two heads and scaly skin. If you really want to flatter someone in a wheelchair, you'll get nowhere with that line; I think the guy realized that when he saw the expression on my face. Beauty can be found even in the seat of a wheelchair; if we can go to the moon, an attractive person in a wheelchair is possible.
That said, I get it. Some people just don't know what to say to a person in a wheelchair which can make for some pretty ridiculous and outrageous things being said. So if, like my gym’s answer to David Gandy, you don't want to make a fool out of yourselves next time your around a wheelchair user, here’s my the top three lines that should be firmly off your list of icebreakers.
3. Do you know so and so in a wheelchair?
Funnily enough no. There seems to be this archaic idea that all wheelchair users are on friendly terms with every other wheelchair user, like we have some weird psychological connection or live in one big, happy, step-free village. Just like you don't know everybody who owns the same iPhone 6 as you, I don't know everyone in a wheelchair, but I'm sure Sam from your local supermarket is lovely.
2. Good for you!
Perhaps one of the most outrageously awful things you can say to someone who uses a wheelchair. Annoyingly it’s always said whenever we do something basic, like pick up a dropped pen or, I don’t know; go out in public. I once even got told this exact line after going to the toilet in the interval of a show; she gave me an enthusiastic pat on the back and everything. Older people do tend to say this more often than younger people, so it’s hard to get mad because mostly it's a lack of knowledge due to their generational upbringing. Yet when you do something as simple as drive your wheelchair up a ramp, and someone says, “Good for you,” you almost can’t help but want to punch them in the face.
1. You're an inspiration.
I can't tell you how angry this makes me. The man who threw himself in-front of a Tunisian gunman to protect his fiancée; he's an inspiration. The nurse who works 12 hour shifts to help save people’s lives and still manages to single-handedly raise a family; she's an inspiration. Just because I am out and having a good time like every twenty-two year old my age and not hidden away that doesn't make me an inspiration. "You're an inspiration" equates to "If I were you I don't think I'd be able to leave my house" and frankly that's pretty insulting. When I cure famine or create world peace, then you can call me an inspiration.
So these are merely a few nuggets of advice. My biggest advice though? Just speak to us like you would any other human being and if you have said any of these, like my toned and tanned gym friend, I'm sure you’re not alone. Just heed these words of wisdom and resist the seemingly uncontrollable urge to pat us on the head; unless of course you don't mind us running over your toes and then speeding off into the distance with a shit-eating grin on our faces...