Wheelie True Stories

Breaking Down Stereotypes

Okay, it’s time for a full-on rant.

Maybe it’s just the pregnancy hormones talking, but lately I’ve noticed myself getting more frustrated by people who stereotype my husband. It’s something we all do; I’m definitely not innocent, I mean, that young kid driving the Range Rover… must be daddy’s money, right? But I’m becoming more defensive when people say things like “you must be so much help to your husband” or “how does he handle it? Does he get depressed?” or when people tell me that we must have a tough time financially because “disability doesn’t pay much.” I understand that people are naturally curious and they care, but at the same time I am so tired of it. I’m tired of every person with a disability whether that be an injury or a disease, being labelled the same way. No two people are the same, period. So if you aren’t the same as me, what makes my husband the same as the next guy in a wheelchair?

In keeping with our last blog post (which you can read here), these stereotypes are part of why it is so important to be an advocate. Not only do we need to advocate for the rights of people with diverse disabilities, but we also need it to be known that

just because a person has a specific disability, doesn’t mean they fit into a specific box with a specific label.

Here are a few of the big stereotypes that I would really like to do away with:

  1. People with disabilities are not independent. This could not be further from the truth. Although there are some people out there who need more help than others, and even some that may be completely dependent on caregivers to meet their needs, there are a high percentage of people living with disabilities that are independent, functioning, contributing members of society. Who would have thought?! They live on their own, they work and they have families. Yes, different disabilities will need varying degrees of assistance with different aspects of their life, but for that matter, so do able bodies. I can’t do my taxes, but that doesn’t make me any less independent than my husband’s wheelchair makes him.
  2. People with disabilities are sick. Trust me, you can’t catch a spinal cord injury. People with disabilities aren’t contagious, nor do their disabilities generally make them in poor physical health. They’re also not something that needs to be fixed, or cured like a common cold. Sure, there are more health concerns when you have a disability, but if you are active, eat well and take care of yourself, you’ll still be healthy. My husband isn’t sick, his legs just don’t work.
  3. People with disabilities are depressed. So are people without disabilities. There’s nothing wrong with it either way. What bothers me most about this is that people assume that because my husband suffered a major, life changing injury, he must have gotten depressed. For the record he didn’t, and not everyone in his situation does. There are a lot of people that adapt to their new way of life without anger, or anxiety, or depression. Not everyone who suffers a traumatic event has PTSD.
  4. People with disabilities are a burden. So much no. Not even a little bit. Going back to point number one, just because someone with a disability may not be 100% independent doesn’t make them a burden. Asking for help is hard for a lot of people, but in my opinion, if you aren’t willing to help, or if you think it’s a burden to do so, you need a major attitude adjustment. I have never felt obligated to help my husband with anything, I have never felt obligated to stay with him, nor have I had to sacrifice anything because of his spinal cord injury… except for maybe a house with stairs, haha!
  5. A successful person with a disability is inspiring. “Good for you for getting out and about!” Ugh. Why is it that every success story involving someone who is ‘handicapped’ is inspiring? Not only is this irritating, but it perpetuates the idea that a disability is some sort of challenge that you need to overcome to be ‘normal’, instead of the disability being its own kind of normal. Getting a coffee at Tim Hortons is not inspiring, wheelchair or not…. the amount of Tim’s coffee that you can drink in a day, now that’s a different story!
  6. People with disabilities have a decreased mental capacity. No, you don’t have to talk louder, the wheelchair doesn’t make him deaf. No, you don’t have to talk slower, the wheelchair doesn’t make him slow. No, you don’t have to talk to me instead, he is quite capable of conversation and making decisions and answering questions. Yes, there are some people in wheelchairs who do have developmental disabilities or brain injuries, but don’t assume that the two go hand in hand. It’s his legs that don’t work, not his brain. Even if the person does have some decreased cognition, it’s no reason to talk to them any differently or treat them like they are less than a person.
  7. People with disabilities are asexual or can’t have sex. Hah! That’s how I got pregnant…


We all face stereotypes on a daily basis and these are just a few of the ones that people with disabilities face. Getting rid of these is the first step in breaking down the barriers to accessibility and equality for people of all abilities. Like I said earlier, I understand natural curiosity that comes from a place of wanting to learn and I am all for educating people and helping them to understand. What I don’t understand is the people who make uneducated assumptions and then speak those assumptions out loud as if they are fact; those are the labels that we need to get rid of.
So what labels have you been given, or what stereotypes would you like to see disappear? Comment below and let us know!


Pushing on…

Sam (with Chelsea’s permission!)


  • Summer

    So much truth in this post!!!
    My boyfriend’s a C4 quad and when we’re out and about it happens ALL THE TIME that people talk to me instead of him. I hate it! I generally like it when my man speaks for us both (like ordering at a restaurant, buying the tickets at the museum, that sort of thing), but since I started dating him, this has gotten even stronger, since I just feel like not talking at all anymore when people talk to me, assuming he isn’t capable. I often just say nothing, look at him and let him do the talking. So annoying! Oh, and the inspirational thing also happens a lot. Ugh!
    In two years of dating I have encountered every single one of these stereotypes.

  • Karen Seddon

    My husband is a DBKA. What most upsets us is children are curious and have a lot of questions which my husband is happy to explain(PG rated). Parents have a tendency to pull children away and tell there children no to bother the nice man. Let children learn. Maybe they will grow up and make our world more accessible.

  • Rachel

    Hi guys,

    great to put such a positive message out there, there needs to be more of this! I am C6 quad and have been for 19 years. I met & got married to my husband after my accident and we have a daughter who is 7 & a bit of a loopy mini labradoodle.

    Went through quite a rough patch recently and started writing a blog which I still write. Be great if you could take a look, let me know your thoughts http://www.wheellifeofmine.wordpress.com

    Good luck with your baby!

    Rachel 🙂

  • Spring

    Sooooo much yes to this piece! I’m a 6-7 quadriplegic woman who drives a car, has held public office, and owns/runs a very successful business. I live in a house with roommates (because I have a very nice very big house) and it drives me BANANAS that pretty much everyone assumes they are here to take care of me. Obviously no one would freely choose to be around me. I must be paying them to look after me. Along with that goes the weird assumption that it’s ok to discuss my health, mood, etc with these people. So inappropriate and diminishing. Some days I can barely keep from snapping. It is struggle every single day to insist on my autonomy and self-determination. Is it wrong to say I find comfort reading articles like yours because I know it’s not just me. Thank you.

  • Sarah Thompson

    These are awesome articles, you guys rock.
    I too am writing and speak a lot about this coming from my own personal experience. You have touched base on so many things that I have wrote about and yes, it is most frustrating for me. I am a a C-3,4 quadriplegic and need a lot of assistance in my life. However, I do have a fully working brain, I have a 16-year-old teenager and I completely run our own lives. I do not need others to speak for me or talk to my caregiver or look to her for the answers. This definitely needs to change. The perceptions of people with disabilities, and there’s so many misconceptions out there, people are so quick to judge. Thank you so much Sam, wow, you are so awesome!

  • Jason

    #5 #5 #5!! I recently had a woman stop me while I was pumping gas in my car to tell me how inspiring it was to see. Pumping gas in my car. Yes, I’m a T9 para (still find it amusing that we sci’s tend to introduce ourselves w our level of injury), but I do drive, quite well thank you and thus I pump gas.

    So do you! I just get to sit down while I do it. What’s so inspiring?? Fantastic article. Nothing gets my wife angrier than people applying stereotypes to me.

  • Bert

    I am a T-7 para and have been subject to the same stereotyping. My wonderful wife has had to deal with it as well. Thank you for this article! I am not alone and it does help. I tend to react as a smart ass which usually goes over badly but life goes on.

  • Shan

    Excellent message and the part about health, well I have known James for many years and he is healthier than 90% of the people I know and has accomplished more than most. Thank you for sharing, you are doing a service to all that are uneducated and it really helps people “get it”. You think of people that don’t have any “physical” obvious limitations and no one sees it, but bam… you see a chair or something visual… stereotyping comes in. You and Chelsea doing what your doing opens many eyes, doors and minds!! Congrats on the baby news!!! You are going to LOVE IT!! So much fun!

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