I had a stroke three years ago and, weather permitting, I visit the Comox Mall two or three times a week in my electric wheelchair.
I never cease to be amazed and humbled by the kindness of strangers, whether it’s the bakery employee at John’s Independent grocery who unhooks my shopping bag from the back of my chair or a fellow shopper who fetches an item that’s just beyond my reach.
But on rare occasions I encounter a stranger on the street who, for some reason, seems to resent the amount of space my wheelchair occupies. Heading west on Beaufort today, as usual I kept to the side of the path opposite the curb — in this case the left — so as not to risk my right wheel from dropping off the sidewalk and tipping me onto the street.
A block ahead of me I saw a woman in her late 40s walking her dog, heading toward me, and something in her determined gait told me she was determined not to yield her space. Sure enough as she drew near, she made no effort to step around to my right, but rather inched past me on my left where there was only a narrow passage between the walk and trees. When she was behind me she snapped, “You could have moved!”
I started to explain why I didn’t, but my speech is sometimes a little slow because of my stroke — and she wasn’t stopping to listen anyway. “You could have moved,” she repeated as she strode off.
I’m relaying this, not out of spite, but by way of explaining to the able-bodied why some wheelchair users may seem bloody-minded about keeping to one side of the sidewalk. Not that most people need an explanation — they’re kind enough to accommodate us without question.