.when they’re on wheelchairs. My wheels squeak when they’re low on air and there’s not a thing I can do about it because I can’t operate an air pump.
However, I do get a lot of comments when this happens. And this has led me to the conclusion that there is a learned helplessness reaction on the part of some able bodied folks to situations like this. They say things like:
“Your tires need air.”
“I think your tire pressure is low.”
“You should put air in those tires.”
Uh, thanks. Of course, it seems that this, like many other things, falls to me (who, as a quadriplegic, can’t do it) or to “the only person in the world who can do things”, my aide. This is a phenomenon I see all the time but don’t understand. Of course my aide will put air in my tires when she can, after doing the umpteen number of endless recurring tasks she already does around here. I, on the other hand, don’t think I will be putting air in my tires in the near future. Or ever. So squeaky they shall remain.
Knowing this, I will sometimes venture to suggest that perhaps the person noticing the “squeaky wheels” would man the air pump. I tell them I’m happy to explain how it’s done, how much air pressure the wheels take and how to apply the nozzle. And it takes about three minutes, I add. Then the litany of excuses begin.
“I can’t, I’m afraid of pumps,” one person said. (This must have a name in the DSM IV – inflatophobia perhaps?)
“Sorry, haven’t got the time.”
Well, you get the idea. What’s interesting about this is a. I’m not the one who brings up that my wheels need air. Certainly since I’m sitting on top of them and listening to the squeaking all day I know they need air. And b. I really don’t think people understand that telling a quadriplegic that her tires are low on air is of any use whatsoever. If I could fix ’em I most certainly would!
What this basically shows, however, is that the saying “squeaky wheels get the grease” – or, in this case, air, simply holds no truth when it’s applied to disability. Squeaky wheels do get the usual – advice and suggestions. It also reveals the phenomenon of the learned helplessness of the able bodied observer.
Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan