Tag Archives: Independence

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.

A Secret Weapon for Transfer Troubles

by Emily Ladau

I love a good adventure as much as the next person, but it can often be a bit challenging to transfer from my wheelchair into a car. My family has a vehicle adapted so I can get inside, but sometimes I just want to take a drive with my friends. Since it took me longer to get my driver’s license than most of my peers and I’m still working on getting a vehicle with the equipment I need to drive, my current options for transportation when going out are either to be driven by my father or to be picked up by a friend. While I’m thankful that my friends are always up for letting me hitch a ride, transferring to the passenger seat used to be a two person acrobatic performance.

Being that I’m fairly independent, I’m not a huge fan of asking for assistance to wiggle into a car even though I know my friends don’t mind helping. So, in order to enjoy going out, I would let go of my pride and ask for a hand. I continued this slightly frustrating process until the fateful day that my mother was flipping through a catalog and discovered what has since become my new secret weapon for transfers.

What’s my secret? Believe it or not, it’s a bath step. The Drive Medical Portable Bath Step, to be exact. You’re probably wondering why I’m singing the praises of what seems like nothing more than a glorified step stool. It’s because the bath step is so much better and safer than a regular step stool. For example, it’s intended for use in a slippery environment. This means even when I’m out in the rain, I can get into a car with less risk of falling. Plus, the price is a bargain for something that makes my life easier and gives me a way to be more independent.

The one caveat is that since I only use one step, it only gives me enough height to transfer into cars, but not into vans or trucks. But, you can get more than one step since they’re stackable and lightweight, which could be a solution to that issue. Luckily, most of my friends have regular sedans.

My transfer process is pretty simple. I place the bath step on the ground in front of the ledge of the car. Then I roll my chair up as close as possible at an angle, put the brakes on, put my feet on the step, and spin around to sit on the ledge. From there, I pull myself up into the seat mostly with my upper body, but the four inches of extra height makes it much less of a struggle and gives me plenty of leverage. Most importantly, I love that I can do the transfer myself, so that it’s a one-acrobat process instead of two!

As an added bonus, the simple little bath step not only opens up possibilities for me to get in my friends’ cars, but also makes the process of getting into bed much easier for me when I’m exhausted at the end of an adventurous day. When I got a new bed a few years ago, it was much higher than my old one and posed a challenge for me to get on. So, I bought another step to keep on the side of my bed to give me a small but much needed height boost for transfers.

Who knew that independence could take the shape of a plastic step? It’s been such a freeing discovery. What are your transfer tricks?


EmilyLadau_Headshot_2013Emily Ladau is a passionate disability rights advocate whose career began at the age of 10, when she appeared on several episodes of Sesame Street to educate children about her life with a physical disability. In the years that followed, Emily took on leadership roles in many advocacy initiatives. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English from Adelphi University. Immediately after graduation, Emily was selected to participate in the prestigious American Association of People with Disabilities internship program based in Washington, D.C. Since completing her internship in August 2013, Emily has been both employed and volunteering with multiple organizations to foster employment opportunities and develop resources for the disability community, as well as to encourage people with all types of disabilities to develop their inner voice for advocacy.

Emily blogs at Words I Wheel By about her experiences as a disabled young adult, challenging people to consider all aspects of the disability experience in new ways. She loves forming new connections, and invites you to like Words I Wheel By on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @emily_ladau.

No More Untied Shoes!

I love shoes. This is a little ironic because my CP severely limits the types of shoes that I can wear. I am envious of women that can wear hooker boots, sexy heels and strappy summer sandals. I will never be able to wear those types of shoes. In college I wore only sneakers; for some reason I was convinced that was the only type of shoe I could put on independently and have it stay on my feet.

Unfortunately, sneakers came with their own set of problems, mainly the laces. I did everything I could to avoid tying my shoes, including just leaving them untied which annoyed my college roommate to no end. If I had a quarter for every time that girl tied my shoes, I’d have enough money to buy my very own shoelace tying robot; which I need now that she doesn’t live close enough to tie my shoes anymore.

Shortly after college, angels descended from heaven and delivered unto the world cute, velcro- sneakers for grown-ups. I thought my life had been made, but then I found there were cute mary janes, flats with elastic sides and boots without laces. I no longer needed to struggle with laces, or ask my husband for help. My sneakers soon found themselves pushed into the deep recesses of my closet, shoved under the bed and forgotten, for the most part.

Except, this bounty of laceless shoes isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They may be cute and easy to put on, but when I am walking for more than a few minutes at the mall, the grocery store or with my dog, they offer absolutely no support for my feet. This was fine when I was young and spry, but now, I often find myself uttering “oh my aching feet” like the grandma on an 80’s sitcom.

I tried to go back to sneakers for those longer walks, only to find that tying my shoes is even harder than it used to be. Seems that old phrase ‘use it or lose it’ definitely applies to my shoe tying ability. So, as I often do in times of trouble, I turned to the internet and discovered that many of my fellow Ceeps (that’s a person with CP, for all you non-Ceeps) were using something called Lock Laces to solve this dilemma. I decided to give it a try.

These laces are awesome and  relatively easy to put in your shoes. It took me a little more time than some; if you have trouble with fine motor skills you might have to employ your shoe tying robot for assistance, but once you get them in your shoes, that’s it! You will never need help tying your shoes again, and you can retrain your robot for another impossible task, like folding a fitted sheet.

Staying Safely Independent …

I can only speak for myself but I’ll bet there are many of you out there that agree with me when I say that I want to remain in my home for as long as I am physically able to do so. I also realize that things do change as I age so I’m trying to be sensible about this also. I want my children to see that, despite my wish to remain independent, I can be sensible too!

Here are a few of the changes that I’ve made to simplify my life and to make my home a safer place…

Big Button telephone


This type of phone may be passé for the younger set who rely almost solely on cell phones but I love it. I don’t need to put on my glasses in order to dial and, since I often misplace my glasses, that’s a big plus.

Moving my bedroom: I find that having my basic living quarters all on the first floor is so convenient. I don’t have to climb the stairs with my arms loaded with clothes to be stored in the closet or bed linens to be changed. An added advantage is that by moving my bedroom down it means that my guests will be provided with a more private area on the 2nd floor.

Good lighting: I talked about this in a recent entry but I want to also stress here the importance of being very careful where the cords are placed. I had a dear friend who broke a hip just by catching her foot in a cord that had been carelessly extended between her chair and the wall.

Getting rid of all scatter rugs ! I’ve had my share of falls due to these, both by slipping on a slick floor or stumbling over them. I also had fun about 3 years ago and painted a kitchen “rug”. It’s kept up very well and I never have to worry about slippage here:


Solar lights on my deck my son-in-law provided these and they are a God-send. The solar panels gather and store sunlight and then light up the stairs at night. The light lasts at least 8 hours and is an inexpensive, but effective, way to ensure that I will have a safe way to climb the stairs at night.

These are just a few of the ways that I’ve made my home a safer place. I’d love to have you share your ways with us.


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