A few months ago, we bought Charlie’s first wheelchair. It’s designed for children up to ten years old and looks a lot like a pram, since Charlie isn’t yet capable of steering it herself.

It’s been a great help to us and a much more comfortable ride for Charlie, which almost makes the $5,000 price tag worth it.

The very thing we love the most about it – that is, that it doesn’t advertise itself as ‘disability equipment’ – has caused a few unforeseen issues for us when we’re out and about.

I find myself having to say, “Actually, it’s a wheelchair”, more often than I expected. Here are just a couple of examples of this phenomenon. I took the children bowling last week. I didn’t see anything resembling a ramp, but there was an older gent in a wheelchair down there so I asked a staff member for help.

To get down to the floor where the lanes are, there are about four large steps.

He explained that the only disabled access they had involved going around to the outside of the building and opening the big bay doors so that we could come in on that level. I asked him to do this. Now, if Michael had been with us, that’s exactly what we would have done.

Steve looked at the ‘pram’, looked at me very strangely, and said, “I can just help you lift it down the stairs if you like”.

However, this ‘pram’ is not a pram. It weighs 25kg without Charlie in it, so I didn’t want to risk a health and safety breach and a slipped disc on behalf of the bowling alley staff. The “actually, it’s a wheelchair” speech again.

I found myself having to explain the weight of the chair and request that the bay doors be opened for us.

To his credit, Steve was understanding and took us around to the other door, but our odd entry meant that play had to be suspended as we came through. I could feel all eyes on us in an unspoken question: ‘why is that woman using the bay entry for her pram?'

It would probably have been frowned upon if I’d grabbed the PA mic from Steve’s lapel to announce to the assembled crowd that ‘actually, it’s a wheelchair’, so we just walked on in silence.

Typical. The other recent instance of this was when I took the children to see the Australian National Ballet perform Giselle in the park. There must have more than a thousand people in attendance, and the majority of the hill had been set aside for families without prams, chairs, and the like.

The Riverstage is a great amphitheatre at the base of a grassy hill.

The ‘nosebleed section’ allowed prams and chairs, so that is where we headed. However, sitting behind other people’s prams (why don’t people fold them down if their children are sitting in their laps?) meant that my children couldn’t see a thing.

I spotted a “Wheelchair Viewing Platform” on the far left of the stage, about halfway down the hill, and thought, ‘that’s the very place for us’, so we moved our things across.

Also, our chair is taller than the average pram and I felt awful for the people who’d set up camp directly behind us.

We were settled with a friendly group of elderly ballet-lovers in no time.

However, in the half hour that followed (before the start of the show), we were approached by no less than four different security staff, who told us that the wheelchair viewing platform was not for prams and also not an appropriate seating arrangement for my other children.

This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise since Susannah had to wee at least four times throughout.

After giving the ‘actually, it’s a wheelchair’ speech four separate times, and explaining that there was no way I was going to let my 11 year old son and 5 year old daughter sit without adult supervision among the enormous crowd (Michael was at a work function), we gave up and moved to a grassy knoll near the toilets.

We still had a great time and the ballet was breathtaking, but it was a frustrating experience nonetheless. This issue is not completely confined to the chair situation.

Do other parents find themselves having to explain their situation a lot?

I’ve felt similar judgement when I choose the special needs trolley at the supermarket (Charlie can still squeeeeeeze into a standard trolley seat but it isn’t nice) or when using the disabled bathroom at the shopping centre.

Do you find that you’re developing a standard speech for these times?

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