It might not seem like an important detail at first, but when I entered my Winchester taster session last weekend I decided to sit on a normal seat. This was primarily so that I could access a table more easily (although Lara had offered to move it) and be more comfortable on what was effectively a big sofa, although the decision may have had a slightly deeper motivation behind it. As I stopped my wheelchair next to the seat, lifted the armrest up and began to slide over, I must have been partly determined to show all of the new people in the room the independence I am capable of. Whenever I do transfer to another chair, it does tend to make a scene – probably because some people don’t expect me to move at all – and maybe, on that one occasion, I subconsciously used that to my advantage.
Firstly, the footplates on my wheelchair are swung back, ironically to stop them getting in the way of my feet as I move. If there is not enough room for them to swing all the way, I take them off entirely, meaning that I have to find a surface they can lean against until they are put back on again. This usually involves at least a small amount of clattering about, and on Saturday that did turn one or two heads. Then, as aforementioned, my right armrest is raised, removing the only obstacle stopping me from shuffling sideways into my designated new seat. I start to move, and my bottom edges off of my gel cushion. At this point people are really looking, but I take no notice – I certainly don’t take it to heart. On the contrary, it is a good opportunity for me to show that I am not fused to my wheelchair, as one girl in sixth form believed until we decided to set her straight one day. I arrive in my new location, and sit back as far as possible to make myself comfortable – on Saturday, when I had positioned myself squarely in front of the table I needed, I took a moment to smile at one or two people who were looking, just to reassure them that I was OK.
Occasionally, I like to go the extra mile, just to demonstrate that I really can be fine without help. At Winchester this meant using my initiative to take my notebook and pen out of my bag before transferring, pairing them up together neatly on the desk as I leant across to it. I politely declined an additional offer of assistance from Lara (perhaps wanting to impress her and make a good first impression), and only asked for her help when I realised that getting my things back across to my bag would be slightly harder at the end. As I got back into my wheelchair again, she kindly kept her eye on me to make sure I would be safe, although she didn’t intervene directly – she could evidently see that I had everything under control, so I must have gotten my point across to her. We left with big smiles on our faces, having bonded so well – and, through something that is so normal to so many other people, I might just have shown her that I’m not completely helpless. That’s important, and I look forward to conveying it more often in September!