Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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The Mentalist, Wheelchairs, And Scuffed Shoes

One of the television shows I enjoy watching is The Mentalist. If you aren’t aware of the show, the main character resolves crimes by using his really rather acute sense of observation (not unlike Sherlock Holmes!). I was a bit annoyed by the plot’s denouement with yesterday’s episode.

Warning: Spoiler ahead. If you have not seen the episode "Miss Red" (Series 1, Episode 21), and you are interested in the show, you may wish to view the episode before reading on!

Wheelchair Users Inspire Confidence

So, Patrick Jane discovers who’s done it. The culprit? The security expert for the company, who happens to be a wheelchair user! Only, he doesn’t have a disability – he’s using the wheelchair as a plot. He was hired by the victim. Part of the dialogue in an interrogation goes something like this:

Jane: I bet the victim didn’t even check your references when he hired you, eh? [note the kiwianism added for flavour!]
Culprit: No, he didn’t. Who doesn’t trust a guy in a wheelchair?

I have to admit, the cliché there is tiresome. But then, it wouldn’t be a cliché if there weren’t some part of truth to that!

Found Out Because Of Scuffed Shoes

In any case, that isn’t really what annoyed me. Jane explains that every time he meets "someone in a wheelchair", he looks at the bottom of their shoes. This brought a funny mental picture of Jane at a NCIL or National ADAPT meeting! Anyway, what gave the culprit away was that the sole of his shoes were scuffed.

There’s a preconceived idea that needs to be debunked! Just because someone uses a wheelchair doesn’t mean their shoes are pristine. Far from it!

Apart from the fact that not everyone using a wheelchair is unable to stand or even sometimes walk, the fact is, a wheelchair user’s shoes do get quite scuffed. Our shoes don’t wear in strictly the same patterns as if we were walking all the time, but they do wear out.

  • Our shoes constantly rub against the footrest of our chairs. Especially if we have muscle spasms.
  • Our shoes rub against the floor or ground each time we transfer, often with a significant amount of weight on them
  • Our shoes rub against bottom of car doors, wheelchairs, and other objects, during transfer.
  • Or it might just be we didn’t replace all our shoes after we started using a wheelchair…

So yeah, there is wear and tear on a wheelchair user’s shoes. Jane, you really let me down on this one!

One More Thing

Many of you will know that I have a problem when non-disabled actors are hired to play the role of disabled characters. My most recent discussions on the topic were around Glee, on Twitter. In this episode of The Mentalist, the wheelchair user character is not played by an actor with a disability. But this situation is different, as part of the plot involves the actor walking around – after all, he’s just using the wheelchair as a disguise to commit his evil and dastardly crime! So this one escapes my grumbling :)