I went into a wheelchair full time when I was 16 years old. I am 34 now, so I’ve been using a wheelchair for over half my life. I could have started using a wheelchair around the age of 12 or 13, when I started losing mobility, but fear kept my family and myself from taking the steps to get me the wheelchair I needed. I used a scooter, until I could no longer walk, and I needed more support for my back. Because it takes so long for wheelchairs to be ordered and processed, I was not able to get a wheelchair when I truly needed it, and had to use a wheelchair I got from the hospital. It was not at all suited for my body, and I had to rely on others to push me.
My mother was convinced that I did not have the degenerative, progressive muscle disease I have, and insisted that I would walk again. She saw my wheelchair as a symbol of weakness and that I had given up. Truthfully, I was so tired. I was actually quite relieved to have to use a wheelchair. I was tired of falling. I was tired of being left behind, because I couldn’t keep up with others. My wheelchair gave me something I had been craving… something every teenager wants. My wheelchair gave me FREEDOM.
We as a society have a warped view on disability. We see being disabled as something that should be feared. We see being disabled as something that means a person has a deficit. I don’t see myself as less than because I have a disability. I see myself as a person who does things differently. I see myself as someone who is able to accomplish their goals, but who has to do it in a different way.
Unfortunately, society has the view that wheelchairs are limiting. It often has the view that wheelchairs are something that must be feared. Like my own family, many people seem to think that going into a wheelchair means that you’re giving something up, rather than gaining something. I gained so much, by using a wheelchair. Unfortunately, since most people do not use wheelchairs, they have no idea how great a tool wheelchairs can actually be.
This is emphasized in a recent PSA about osteoporosis. In the video, which is entitled, “Beware the Chair,” an empty wheelchair chases around innocent bystanders, in order to scare them into taking their health, and the risk of osteoporosis, seriously. I have posted the video below. Accompanied by a modern rock horror movie score, it looks more like something meant to terrify than to educate.
What this video does is feed into the concept that people need to fear using a wheelchair. Could you imagine what would happen if the dialogue around using wheelchairs actually stressed the benefits of using a wheelchair, if you need one? So many people who are ashamed to have to use a wheelchair would not limit themselves. It would also create greater acceptance for people who have to use wheelchairs. We owe it to the next generation of children who use wheelchairs or who may need to use wheelchairs, to change the dialogue, so that future generations no longer fear having to use a wheelchair.
The facts show than it is highly likely that a person will use a wheelchair or other mobility device, at some point in their life… and that’s okay. We deserve to appreciate wheelchairs for what they are… pieces of technology developed to provide greater independence and mobility.
Don’t fear the wheelchair… It may be the greatest tool you use to reclaim your independence and take back your freedom!