(written 18 May 2019 – since then, I have embraced all the tools to get about, especially my new mobility scooter which I will write about another time).
I’m beginning to let go of old expectations. Old beliefs. Were they even mine to begin with or were they ingrained from societal beliefs?
I’m talking about misconceptions around disability and in particular the notion that if you are using a wheelchair then you are unable to walk at all. Conversely, by default then, if you can walk a little then you aren’t disabled enough to be using a wheelchair. From what I have read on social media, it seems a lot part time wheelchair users feel society (in general, not everyone) believe this, and will judge accordingly.
So we feel perhaps a fraud, a cheat or naughty when we know we cannot be on our feet for a particular day and decide that the chair is our best bet to achieve what we want that day. Especially when on another day we might feel we can be on our feet for a bit.
Or we worry we might get looked at funny? What if someone says something, disapproves, or demands an explanation? Why do we feel that we have to justify ourselves to strangers especially when we spend so much time justifying it to ourselves internally (a result of feeling like we will be judged?).
Then there’s the whole invisible disability factor, or a disease no one has heard of and you need 15 minutes to explain (again why do we have to explain?).
We feel judged and then we judge and make assumptions about society. It’s messed up. One big judge-fest.
Admittedly, I’ve only used a Wheelchair once. That was the other day. I didn’t really look to see if people were looking at me. I was too busy being in awe at how much ground an able bodied person (in this case my hubby who was pushing me) can make in such a short time.
But I am not new to mobility aids. I have worn ankle foot orthotics (leg braces) for four years and guess what? I’ve always tried to keep them covered up. I suppose I never really wanted to be looked at. I wanted to blend in. I walk slow. I walk awkward. I feel off balance and I lose balance easily. I get exhausted quickly and my feet get so hot and sore.
I work hard to walk. So for me I am ready to embrace new tools. It’s really just a toolbag of devices and I plan to use the most appropriate for the situation. Short distances: afos, family outings: chair/scooter. You wouldn’t use butter knife to carve meat (I can’t cut meat so I am not sure if this analogy is a good one lol).
However, because of this bizarre belief that if you can walk you aren’t disabled enough to use a chair (or assuming all wheelchair users cannot walk at all), the thought of me using a chair never crossed my mind before. Even though I could’ve done with one in the past. I’d just miss out on an outing. My kids would miss out on an outing.
Once I realised how much I was truly missing out on in the world, I knew I actually need more than my afos to help me get out and about.
I know for me I only really got proper worried that I would be judged by others AFTER reading stories from other disabled people, and their bad experiences (caused by strangers).
If I’m being completely honest, I think a scooter or wheelchair or power chair are great ideas for those who would otherwise miss out on activities. But other people can spoil it and make us feel bad, unworthy and defensive (gosh this could be applied universally to so many scenarios in life).
Just like the horror stories of well meaning people telling off those who legitimately park in a disabled parking spot. I have never personally had a bad experience with my parking (perhaps it’s because I don’t go out enough I haven’t had a chance for confrontations), and have only experienced the benefits of getting a good park.
I guess the takeaway is that we shouldn’t let our fear of what other people might think, say or do, stop us from taking part in our own life and the lives of our loved ones. For me, spending time with my family is more important than what a stranger may think.
It’s easier said than done. But I guess we just need to keep on trying.
I will keep trying.