An electric wheelchair is the only form of independent transport available to many people. But electric wheelchairs can sometimes frighten other pedestrians. People get particularly worried on crowded footpaths. Pedestrians often say silly things to wheelchair users. Their comments can be absurd, like
Should you be driving that thing? Sometimes their comments can also be offensive, like
You are lucky you are in your chair and you don't have to walk!
The Melbourne central business district is often very busy. When I'm travelling in my electric wheelchair I always try to reach my destination quickly. I'm not sure why I drive fast. Perhaps it is because I am impatient or often late. But although I like to go fast, it does not mean I am dangerous. I can drive my wheelchair extremely well. Even when I have had a bit too much beer.
I have recently discovered that travelling alongside another wheelchair user can make problems even worse. Other pedestrians often scatter if there are two or more electric wheelchairs on a busy footpath. Some pedestrians even become startled and needlessly jump out of the way. It would be easier for electric wheelchair users to travel safely on the footpath if pedestrians were less frightened of us. Startled pedestrians often move erratically. This can increase the risk of collisions.
I am particularly offended when people yell
Don't run me over! I believe that saying that is wrong, even if they are joking. I don't ask strangers not to walk into me. Why should other people ask me the same question?
I also become upset when people assume I am a risk in their shop. Shop staff sometimes believe that I will damage items in their store. They seem to automatically think that I am a bad driver. My wheelchair and I are no more of a risk than a person who is walking.
Cars usually stop when they see an electric wheelchair. This can be very handy. But some car drivers can be overly cautious. They slam on their brakes and wave at us with a nervous grin. I find this embarrassing. I know how to cross a road. Crossing roads is usually easy as long as there are ramps and the pedestrian crossing buttons are at an appropriate height. I don't need special treatment. It can be particularly dangerous if drivers stop in the middle of a roundabout trying to let us cross.
It's not only pedestrians and cars that make travelling difficult. Many footpaths are old and poorly maintained. Even small bumps can be a major inconvenience. These bumps can be an even bigger problem if the person driving the wheelchair is already in pain.
There can also be problems for wheelchair drivers when arriving at a destination. Many buildings have steps that prevent us from entering. There would be more wheelchairs out in the community if pedestrians were more welcoming and shops had accessible entries. Familiarity in the community increases acceptance. This is especially true for wheelchair users.