10 Years of Being “In” a Wheelchair

Ather Sharif
6 min readMar 15, 2023
Ather sitting on a wheelchair facing the Philly skyline. The photo is taken from behind.
Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, Philadelphia, 2013 (10 years ago).

Today, 10 years ago, I was in a car accident that ended up severing my spinal cord, and I have been “in” a wheelchair ever since. Yeah, yeah, the awkward silence, the teary-eyed pitiful looks, the awws and omg-that-sounds-so-sads. Stop it. People with disabilities are not rare, alien creatures you hide your kids from in a grocery store (yes, that did happen). We’re part of this society. And disabilities are more common than the number of times Harry Styles has pretended to be straight.

But before I get into how the decade went. People are not “in” wheelchairs. People use them. As assistive devices. Grammar and all, but it’s a matter of building perspectives. People need to understand that wheelchairs are not our defining characteristics. We just happen to use them for our needs. See the difference?

Okay, so back to the decade. Here are the results from my thematic analysis of my experiences as a person with a disability over the past 10 years.

Disability Always Catches Up

There were several days when I just forgot I had a disability. I would be happy, surrounded by loving and caring people, face no discrimination, and everything would be fine and dandy. But no matter how long those utopian moments would last, something would always remind me that I have a disability and am different than everyone else. Inaccessible buildings (restaurants, dentists’ offices, barber shops, opticians’ clinics, you name it), functionalists (because apparently disabled people don’t have that much to offer other than their intellect, and even that is often questioned), denial of “accommodation requests” (don’t even get me started on that), infections (immune systems and whatnot, sigh), etc., etc.

And for anyone vaguely familiar with disabilities, these aren’t shocking findings. But what lies hidden beneath these inequities are the daily internal battles and emotional demotivators that require an unimaginable level of strength to move forward. Does that make me a “superhero”? “Inspirational”…



Ather Sharif

PhD student @uwcse Accessibility, Visualization, Personalization | SWE Lead @comcast | Founder @evoxlabs | React developer | 🐱 dad | 🍩 eater | 🦅 🔔 #philly ❤