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The Secret World of Wheelchairs

I was young when I started needing a wheelchair to help with my mobility. When I was in fifth grade I had a super flare of my rheumatoid arthritis and couldn’t walk for several months. When the flare passed I had to relearn walking in physical therapy. Still, I would tire easy and so my family got a stroller-type chair then later a wheelchair as I grew.

My wheelchair didn’t limit me.

Even from the start, I never thought of my chair as limiting. Rather, it opened up whole worlds to me that I didn’t have either the energy or the ability to reach. When I started experiencing inaccessible places, I blamed the structures or people and not the fact of my wheelchair. Perhaps it was a childlike perspective, but it seemed to me that wheels were a superior mode of travel—less exhausting, faster, and fun. Why shouldn’t every place be accessible to my stellar wheels?

As I moved around my community and as we traveled as a family more often with my wheelchair, I started noticing a secret world that was new to me. It was the secret underground of wheelchairs! We learned about back entrances, hallways that led to small elevators, secret lifts tucked behind locked doors. It was like the world became a Nancy Drew mystery!

One fun memory comes from a trip me made to Washington, DC, when I was in middle school. At that time there was a new restaurant chain called Planet Hollywood that showcased movie memorabilia. Bruce Willis was one of the owners. It had recently opened a restaurant in the city so my parents thought it would be fun to take us there. (Another trip had included a visit to a Hard Rock Cafe.)

When we arrived the entrance was chock full of stairs, but a hostess told us we could use an alternate entrance and would be getting a ‘backstage’ tour of the restaurant. We’d get to see where Bruce hung out behind the scenes! She took us to a different door and we smashed ourselves into a service elevator that smelled of garbage before exiting into the kitchen. After sliding by counters filled with food and busy kitchen staff, we saw a private green room for celebrities and a little movie theater for special events. It felt so glamorous! I have no memory of the meal except that it was an overpriced cheeseburger. But I’ll always have shared a dark hallway and creepy, stinky elevator with Bruce Willis.

I get to explore behind-the-scenes.

All kidding aside, I do enjoy the detours that my wheelchair takes me on. Everyone else sees the boring old entrance to museums, restaurants, and office buildings. While I get to explore with the excuse of my wheelchair.

A few years ago my husband and I traveled to London and saw a show at the Globe Theater. Not only was the performance of Julius Caesar terrific, but we had a backstage tour! While the original theater was destroyed, it had been rebuilt to be an exact replica. To make it accessible (and probably also to expand the space), they built another modern building connected to it with an elevator and other facilities. We went through this back area to and from the elevator to get to our seats. It was really cool because we saw the costume racks and actors rushing about getting ready. It was an unforgettable experience.

I definitely don’t mind alternative entrances as long as I get to where I am going. It’s also a secret pleasure to see out of the way places and behind-the-scenes action. So I treasure my little secret world of wheelchairs.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    1 year ago

    What a great way to look at life from a wheelchair! Brava!
    I spent 4 months using the power chair at the grocery store, and my experience was very different. Because I was younger than the average user, I got lots of judging looks from people who thought I was abusing the chair. I learned to have my cane/walking stick in the buggy to “prove” my disability.


  • Richard Faust moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi c7mv96. Thanks for writing and glad the article resonated with you (full disclosure – I’m the author’s husband). Sorry you had those experiences using the cart. Thought you might also appreciate this other article from Kelly on being visible/sticking out in which she notes “I feel for my friends with RA who struggle with an invisible illness that they have to explain to others, who are often not understanding and supportive. While there are things I don’t like about always being visible, at least I don’t have to defend myself and explain that I have pain and a condition that can make life challenging:” Wishing you the best. Richard ( Team)

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    1 year ago

    I’m so sorry, MS! (We share the same initials 🙂 ) — That is really frustrating about the nasty looks. I am also pretty young and I sometimes get looks when I use my disability placard. I also bring my cane but I really wish we didn’t have to justify our invisible illness!

    Thanks for sharing! ~Monica

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