How My Wheelchair Gave Me Independence

When you have a disability, there are two types of assistive devices, those you need in order to function and those you want because they make life a little easier. The items that fall into ‘need’ vs ‘want’ kind of depends on your level of disability. Personally, I see nothing wrong with using both kinds of devices regularly. However, growing up I did feel a lot of pressure from my parents, therapists, and even strangers to only use what was absolutely needed, not what made things easier. This pressure seems to come from the belief that the fewer assistive devices you need, the more independent you will be. While this makes sense in theory, in practice nothing could be further from the truth.

Growing up I used crutches to get around; long distances, short distances, at school, where ever I went I was crutching it. For years my teachers had to excuse me from class early (with a friend in case I fell) in order for me to make it to the next class on time. I was always lagging behind other students, more often than not, by the

time I got somewhere my classmates were already moving on to the next destination. My closest friends developed a habit of walking slow; in fact, to this day one of my childhood friends still gets teased for being a slow poke.

Crutches were all I knew, so I never complained. I never asked my parents for a wheelchair because I didn’t know I could. I could walk; people that can walk don’t use wheelchairs. However, in high school my shoulders started to hurt from walking with crutches. My Physical Therapist thought it was tendinitis and suggested that I get

a wheelchair. My parents agreed to this recommendation, but on the condition that it be used only for school.

So in eleventh grade I got my first wheelchair. With this new mode of getting around I discovered two things; just because you don’t need something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it, and that a wheelchair doesn’t mean less independence, it means more. With my wheelchair I was able to get to class on time, I had no more embarrassing falls, I didn’t have to sweat all day in tacky snow boots and I could carry my own lunch at school. Seeing how much more independence I gained from my wheelchair helped convince my parents to get me a power chair for college.

I have never experienced more independence than I did during those four years at college thanks to my power chair; I excelled both academically and socially. Sometimes it isn’t just about what you need; sometimes it’s about what is easier. I know there are people who see me walk out of my chair and probably wonder why I am in a chair if I can stand. But I don’t let it bother me anymore. I am just living the best life I know how; if that means using a chair, drinking from straws, training my dog to pull my socks off for me, and letting my husband carry me up the stairs, well then, so be it.

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