As a psychologist who studies the way we learn and think about disability, I’m often pondering how we can better prepare kids to be inclusive and accepting. I’ve thought more about this in the last couple of weeks after reading accounts from one of my favorite Instagram accounts AbleismIsTrash. Her young daughter experienced a broken leg after a child snatched her walker from her while she played at a pumpkin patch. The obvious and unquestionable conclusion from this scenario is: Do not EVER touch someone’s wheelchair or mobility device without their consent. There’s no gray here. Don’t do it. If you can’t get someone’s verbal permission, can you get confirmation through eye contact and other nonverbal signs? Consider whether you would move a nondisabled person in that scenario. While most people don’t have joysticks to facilitate their movement, we’re easily able to agree that we shouldn’t move people or touch their power wheelchair or other assistive devices without permission.
When it’s Okay to Let a Child Play with a Wheelchair
There is, however, some gray area in when, if at all, we allow kids to touch, play with, or try out mobility devices they don’t themselves need. Different from adult simulations where people “try out disability” (which research tells us aren’t as helpful as they seem), allowing kids to explore mobility equipment in a safe environment can be beneficial. For group purposes, it’s best that kids are trying out wheelchairs and equipment owned by individuals. The risk of accidental damage is just too great and the disabled child’s needs for the device should always be prioritized. Some adapted sports or recreation programs, however, have wheelchairs that are the property of the city or program rather than belonging to an individual. These are great opportunities to see how quickly a cambered basketball wheelchair can turn or what it feels like to push a ball down the court in a power soccer chair.
The Rules on Assistive Devices in My Family
We’re a bit of an unusual household in that we have a number of wheelchairs, both past and present, in our home and garage. It’s not uncommon for our kids, their friends, and family members to ask if they can take a spin. With the exception of my Quantum wheelchair, we’re usually ok with this under supervision. A few of our rules include: 1) Use and protect your brain! Don’t try to flip backwards on purpose. 2) If the disabled person needs their equipment, for any reason or no reason at all, they get it back immediately. 3) Watch out for your environment. Don’t bump into walls or furniture.
Why My Kids Don’t Operate My Power Wheelchair
Currently, I don’t allow anyone to take my Quantum power wheelchair for a recreational spin. Because it’s heavier than our manual wheelchairs, it could cause more damage to the chair or our home. Our kids really haven’t questioned this. They know the central purpose of mobility equipment, like wheelchairs, is to help us move around. While ‘play’ isn’t a bad thing and can open doors for thinking and learning about disability, it has its place and time. I’d love to hear your answers to the question, “Should kids ever be allowed to play with wheelchairs and other mobility equipment?” Share your answers on Instagram or Twitter.
About Kara Ayers: Kara is a mother of three and lives in Ohio. She is an associate professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. In 2021, Kara spoke to the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Equity Taskforce about the need for people with disabilities to access the COVID-19 vaccine. Click here to learn more about Kara.
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