Search google for ‘guide for talking to wheelchair users’ and you’ll get over 350,000 results.
That’s pretty sad when you think about it. So many people are uncomfortable or unsure about talking to a person in a wheelchair that such a high demand for guides like this exists.
But if you or one of your relatives use a wheelchair, you could’ve guessed.
The wheelchair seems to create such a barrier that people can’t see past it. They feel like there must be special rules for dealing with this ‘situation’.
Some simply don’t see people with disabilities. They are invisible to them. That’s a societal problem born out of ignorance. But the good thing is that lots of people do want to acknowledge wheelchair users and make a connection with them, the existence of these guides is evidence of that. Those people don’t want to say the wrong thing and upset anybody, which is obviously a good thing. But the flip-side of that is they often won’t say anything at all, or at least not directly to the chair user.
The reality is there is no ‘situation’. It’s just one person talking to another. The chair is not a barrier. Unless it’s blocking a fire exit, the chair is just a chair. The only barrier that exists is in the mind of the other person, but it seems to be far too common.
So it was really heartening when one of our Firefly mums told us recently how she thought the Upsee was helping eradicate this problem in its own little way.
In a recent interview, Maura Mc Crystal, mum to five-year-old Jack, mentioned something which she considered to be a surprising benefit of the Upsee.
Maura explained: “Getting him out of the wheelchair is a big bonus because whenever you’re out people actually notice Jack more and come over to talk to him. Whereas, whenever he was in the chair I felt they actually avoided you.”
“We were at the beach in Portrush recently and some guys came over to talk to Jack, but before I think they would have walked on past. It was a great feeling inside, y’know? I was just bursting with pride.”
It’s hard to pinpoint a reason for this, especially as our research into the product’s long-term benefits is in its very early stages, but there could be a couple of influential factors.
Firstly, the whole design of the Upsee is intended to look discreet. Parents told us they wanted something that “didn’t scream disability”. So that’s why the Upsee has nice colours and a really cool denim material. It just looks like clothes.
As Maura said: “They don’t really see the Upsee as such. Because of the design of it, if you’re wearing dark trousers and a dark jumper, you don’t actually see that you’re attached to Jack on it.”
The other reason may be that it allows kids to be on the same eye-level as their peers. Research suggests a strong link between the amount of eye contact people receive and their degree of participation in group communications. It follows that the eye contact permitted by the Upsee could play an important role in a child’s ability to communicate and participate with peers.
Furthermore, the clinical background information compiled to date shows us how important that participation is for children’s emotional, physical and social development. So it’s possible that getting to eye-level with their peers may be the first key benefit offered by the Upsee.
The long-term research will tell us more when it’s complete, but the potential benefits we can see and anecdotal evidence we’ve heard so far are very exciting.
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