Mobility Aids & Why I Love Them (Even When the World Disagrees)

If you use a wheelchair, or any other kind of mobility aid, people will look at you differently. I have been exposed to this from the earliest age, though it’s not until recently that I stopped to reflect upon why. Here’s what I was able to come up with: the disabled experience is often synonymous with ideas of tragedy or unfulfilled potential. Furthermore, non-disabled people are so caught up in the privilege of having a healthy body, it’s almost impossible for them to imagine being happy if that reality were to change. Spoiler alert: it will change, someday, even if only through old age. That much is inevitable. But still, the idea of not being able to rely upon yourself completely independently is suffocating. I know this because it’s a weight that I have carried for as long as I can remember. The painful understanding that some people will always be confused whenever I smile or laugh, particularly in public. I have heard “I’m kind of glad that you’re disabled because it has taught me to be a better person” more times than I can count. It’s easy to look at mobility aids and assume that they’re a sign of restriction. I believed that, too, for a long while. This year, however, my wheelchair has instead become a sign of hope.

The other day, I decided to be brave and leave the house with my family. This is an increasingly rare occurrence these days, in all honesty, but I really wanted to go to a little Christmas market. Remind myself what it’s like to enjoy being outside and having fun, even when the pandemic continues to make everything feel scary. With that said, when we got there, it quickly became obvious that the environment wasn’t very accessible. Unless, of course, we wanted to make a scene about getting a ramp. I just wasn’t in the mood for that conversation. Is it too much to ask that these accommodations are standard – just for once? As if that wasn’t enough, almost nobody was wearing a mask, anyway. Immediately, I felt uninvited. Looking after my health was twisted into an inconvenience for everyone around me. It must be nice, I thought, to move around the world without always having to wonder if you’ll be safe. For the record, I have said it before, I will say it again: health is not a guarantee. For anyone, at any time, but perhaps especially right now. In response to this situation, I awkwardly waited outside with my dad until we were ready to travel home again. Despite what it may sound like, this was a win for me. If it had happened at another point in my life, I can assure you that I definitely would have cried. I probably would have been quite dramatic about it, too. This time was different. Although the disappointment was crushing, I wasn’t overwhelmed by negative thoughts. Instead, I reached a state of peaceful acceptance. This is just the way things are.

The picture is divided in half by a black line. On the left, a sad looking white kawaii style character with green space buns, a pink jumper, and blue trousers sits in a wheelchair. They are shackled to the chair by chains. Above, in a white bubble are blue words saying “the perception”. The background is a dirty yellow with chain link fence effect. On the right side of the black line is the same character in their wheelchair. This time, there are no chains. Instead they have beautiful purple and yellow wings, and they are smiling. The writing above the character says “the reality” on this side. The background is orange with a slightly lighter overlay of columns of repeating love hearts.
This says it all so much better than I ever could. Follow the artist on Instagram here.

For the past month or so, my mental health has started to (once again) feel a little more wobbly than usual. I should have expected it with the changing of seasons, I guess. But after allowing myself to sit alongside this darkness, I realised something: just because nobody else seems to care, it doesn’t mean that I have to stop caring, too. Disabled people are allowed to expect more than the bare minimum. For whatever reason, I don’t remember much about my childhood. Something that I do remember, though, is the day that I got my first electric wheelchair. I didn’t know it at the time, but this form of mobility aid was about to become an extension of my body. With this, I have autonomy. I can move around the house freely. I don’t have to rely upon anyone else when I’m outside. I make the rules and my limitations are significantly lessened. Even in my manual chair, when it’s more difficult to have control myself, it gives me a sense of participation that would have otherwise been unavailable to me. That will always be a truly beautiful thing. In the most inaccessible spaces, I will no longer regret being visible. Disabled joy is worth fighting for.

If you’re reading this and wondering how to become okay with the presence of mobility aids in your own life: it’s a journey (maybe even a lifelong one) and you’re allowed to take a moment. But know that looking after your body will never be something to hide or feel shame for. You’re still you. Just with a little extra spice. It is radiant.

Zoe, thank-you for (once again) inspiring me to write this. I’m so proud of you. Lexi, thank-you for all of the kind texts. You are an angel. Maybe we could write something together someday. xxx

2 thoughts on “Mobility Aids & Why I Love Them (Even When the World Disagrees)

  1. So, first: I’ve been to your town! And I know how inaccessible it is. That was before I even had to start using mobility aids myself, but I remember random stairs, and narrow-ness, and uneven pavement, and anything else you can think of that makes everything else unsafe and unwelcome. Second: I have a friend here in my city who complains every time something is made accessible retroactively because cost to him is priority. I remind him that it’s going to benefit him. As you pointed out, maybe not now, but sometime (unless his demise is a sudden accident, which is possible because he is a pilot of single-engine planes for fun). Why are people mad when things are made accessible? What is so offensive about that? It’s really not about the money, truly. I want to know the real reason, I just haven’t gotten to the bottom of it.

    Mobility aids and equipment can be such a big mental leap. My friend and I used to have a live chat where others jumped on, and we had a specific discussion about this – what we wanted to see in equipment. We thought that with 3D printing, we could get into masks and hose coverings that had superhero prints and whatever else we could dream up, not just granny grey. And I have really pretty canes; one is a goddess, and one has beautiful vines and flowers (not granny flowers). I put custom tips on the end that I found that are sort of a flat round rubber disc base so the canes can stand on their own. But I really had to psych myself up to be okay with using a cane and wearing big braces on my hands and wrists. People still make assumptions about why I use them. Just a few days ago, some very sweet ladies around my age insisted I must have carpal tunnel (I don’t). A lot of strangers ask me what I’ve done to myself (nothing). And still others insist I’m too young (I’ll get right on that, thanks).

    Many thanks as always for your wonderful thoughts and insights. You are a gem!

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    1. I just came on here to draft out another post and noticed that I never responded to your lovely, thoughtful comment. I think maybe the biggest hurdle is knowing that not everyone sees me as a person, you know? I think that’s a fairly universal experience for disabled people, especially when mobility aids come into the equation. Therefore, creating space for us in the outside world is not important. In the same way, it frustrates me that these experiences are only validated if there’s some kind of physical indicator. It doesn’t make chronic pain any less debilitating.

      I would LOVE the idea of more custom designs. I always get jealous when I see the many different options available, lmao. Electric wheelchairs aren’t really part of that conversation. I’m glad that you’re more okay with it all now, even if it’s not a linear thing. I also had a frustrating interaction with a stranger yesterday — it’s what I’m here to write about! You know your body better than anyone else and I think that you’re a badass 💚💚

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