What I Love About Wheelchairs


{Finley at Wheelchair Tennis clinic in Portland, Oregon. The chair allows him to play a sport! HOLLA!}

I will never forget the first time I pondered the idea of my child really, truly living in a wheelchair. Finley’s diagnosis in the womb was foggy at best, but we knew he would likely have issues walking no matter what. I was behind a family at Costco and their son, who was probably 12 or 13 years old was in a chair. He seemed cognitively unimpaired and was moving his chair about independently. He embodied what I thought Finley would look like in a chair at that age. And I was suddenly ok with it. I had spent months reconciling this image in my brain during my pregnancy with Finley. Making deals with myself in the “if/then” format. IF he’s in an electric wheelchair, THEN I will be disappointed. But IF he’s in a manual chair, THEN I will feel ok about it. How about IF you’re a jackass THEN you do things like this? Yes, that sounds right. Sheesh.

I am being as honest as I can with this. I had very specific terms with which I felt like I would be OK with the chair. And oddly enough, those things kind of came true. He doesn’t need the chair often. But he does use it almost every single day at school. When he was born and the chair stuff started coming up with our physical therapist I was hesitant to even let that presumptuous hussy speak about it. I was in denial. I was a baby. I was a stupid stupid head.

Because do YOU know what a wheelchair is? It is freeing. It is a smart, amazing piece of machinery that humans started dreaming up in the 1500s. The wheel met the chair and thus the great age of invalids getting around began. However nice being carted around on Hodor’s back in a basket sounds (Google Hodor, GOT deniers), the chair provided dignity and independence to an otherwise completely dependent individual.


Today chairs come in many varieties to meet the needs of many disabilities. I have learned a lot about how to look at the chair in discussions with others. Many people look at the chair as the least common denominator of human physical activity. But do a quick Google search for wheelchair sports and prepare to have your mind blown. Think of the other inventions you use in life that make things better, more liberating. Do you feel bad for yourself that you own a car and don’t walk to work? Do you pity the person who uses GPS instead of the stars to find their way around town? No. Because technology is simply a way to join the thing we cannot do to the thing we can. Spend the day with my sister-in-law, Brenda, in downtown Portland, Oregon and we’ll have a talk about abilities and the need for technology. (Love you, B).

Of course I know that you don’t pity the chair itself. You pity its necessity. But hey, we can’t do anything about that. Get over that because it is doing nothing for anyone other than pissing me off.

We now use the chair to keep Finley safe. He doesn’t need it all of the time, but I push it on him quite a bit for safety’s sake. He also gets tired easily and needs to use it or be held. Holding a 5 year old is crazy talk and I won’t have it (much…I won’t have it much. I still like to hold my baby sometimes… tear). To send a visual reminder to the world around him that he’s not someone you need to touch or push or run close to. It is more than a freeing apparatus—it is a life saver. I love it. He loves it. You should love it too. If he needed an electric one I’d be all for it! Whatever the need, let’s do this thing. It is all. Good.

Now, I will say, you know I don’t like to get preachy about how to talk to people who experience disabilities. I want you to do what the spirit moves you to do. But use common sense. Remember that a wheelchair is an extension of someone’s body. Don’t let your kids come up and try to push or move my kid’s wheelchair. That is tantamount to grabbing his body and moving it around. Not cool. It makes him feel like a baby. It strips away his independence. He doesn’t need you to love it or talk about how cool it is just like we don’t talk about how bad ass your legs are. It is just there and doing its job for Finley. But you don’t need to feel bad for it or him because he uses it. Instead, feel like, “hell yeah! Human ingenuity rules!”

I look around now at the various abilities among kids with OI and think what an amazing time we live in right now. Right here in 2016 we have the most access to the most independence-allowing devices ever known to man. It is a feat of engineering and I am thankful every day for the wheelchair.


Hi, I'm Shannon. I like to write about tough girls and tough things because I find strength to be an interesting and inspirational topic. My husband, Vic is my favorite person and my children, Emerson and Finley are right up there too. I am a disability mother and advocate. A woman-loving, lean-in type. And a fitness coach and cheerleader.

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