Why Should I Feel Shame or Guilt when Asking for My Wheelchair to be Accommodated?

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“I’m sorry, thank you so much.” The words slip out of my mouth like water, naturally flowing out to the strangers I just asked to move. The bar is crowded tonight. All I wanted was to have a nice dinner with my friends before trivia, but doing so has cost me precious time, time that could have been spent using myself as an anchor to reserve a booth at the bar, one of the few accessible spaces for my friends and I to sit.

a bar with people sitting in high top tables

High Top Tables exclude patrons in wheelchairs

Instead, I went to dinner and arrived too late, all the booths taken. What are my options? I could awkwardly sit next to the high tops and shout up the answers to trivia questions to my friends towering on bar stools above me; I could leave and just forget about trivia for tonight or…I could ask these two strangers if they wouldn’t mind giving up their booth and moving to a high top table. I choose the latter and thankfully they are very nice about it, very understanding. However, it does nothing to ease the guilt building up inside me.

However, it does nothing to ease the guilt building up inside me.

But why do I feel so bad? The question goes back and forth in my mind. I feel bad because I should have known that places like these aren’t designed for people in wheelchairs? I should have skipped going to dinner with my friends and waited alone just so I could save myself this feeling?

But why do I feel so bad? The question goes back and forth in my mind. I feel bad because I should have known that places like these aren’t designed for people in wheelchairs? I should have skipped going to dinner with my friends and waited alone just so I could save myself this feeling?

I’ve been a wheelchair user since I was six years old and have been in many inaccessible environments, so asking for accommodations is nothing new to me.

Yet sometimes I feel bad for asking people to accommodate my disability. When there are temporarily able-bodied people sitting in the accessible seats at a movie theater, my mind instantly panics and I think of every solution possible to avoid asking them to move. I do not like the direct confrontation of asking for accommodations. Every time I request someone to go out of their way to help me, I feel a guilt creeping up inside of me. It’s almost as if I am now someone’s burden to bear, someone else’s problem. It’s no secret that I am in a wheelchair, yet I still try to downplay my disability in public because I do not want to be seen as someone who needs help.

My feelings are not unique or new to people with disabilities and I think a substantial source of those emotions stems from a long history of oppression, when people with disabilities were and today are still portrayed as weak, something that requires able-bodied people to take care of, instead of the empowered, incredible and badass people we really are. I want to stop feeling guilty every time I ask for something.

This world is not fully accessible to me. However, that should not impede me from trying to participate fully in life. So what can be done about this guilt? I am trying to make it a daily practice, to ask for the things I need and reasoning with myself why it is necessary and why I should not feel bad about it. I should not feel bad about asking to use one of the three accessible spaces in a bar so that I can hang out with my friends on the same level. An inaccessible space is not something that I created; I am merely trying to exist in it the best way that I can.

As people with visible, physical disabilities, it can be difficult to gather up the courage and ask people to accommodate them, but we should not feel any shame or guilt for that. I believe that if more of us speak up and tell others how to make spaces accessible, then maybe people will be more aware of other injustices, sparking thought and dialogue that could lead to a universally accessible world. We are not inconveniences. We are people, and it is time to ask for what we need to live our lives.


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Alexandra Stoffel

Alexandra Stoffel is a 22 year-old living in her hometown of Sacramento, California. Paralyzed due to a rare spinal cancer at the age of six, she has been a wheelchair user ever since. Alexandra strives to open up dialogue about the different systems of oppression that affect people with disabilities in an effort to eradicate those injustices. She has a passion for working with people from all over the world, specifically those with disabilities. Alexandra recently graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from Seattle University and hopes to attend graduate school to obtain a Master’s Degree in Global Communication. After graduate school, she plans to research the experiences of people with disabilities in different parts of the world, opening up cross-cultural communication.

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