Greater Mobility with a Disability

After 51 years of walking with crutches because of my disability, Spina Bifida, I decided to order a wheelchair. My ability to walk has not changed, which has made family, friends and colleagues curious about my decision. I’m sure they’re thinking, who’d choose to be in a wheelchair when they don’t have to be? At least that’s how I’ve always felt. I thought of a wheelchair as the “dreaded thing” I’d be stuck in when my health declined and I could no longer walk. I’d be more limited and restricted than I already am walking with crutches. So what changed for me to order a wheelchair?

Most significantly, it was a steady and persistent focus on shifting my relationship with my disability from “my body has betrayed me” to acceptance of my body as it is. This shift allowed me to open my eyes and my heart to seeing others in the Spina Bifida community in a new way. I saw those in wheelchairs going from place to place faster and further than I could walk on crutches. Their world seemed bigger and freer to me, not more limited, as I had always imagined.

With this new perspective, I purchased a wheelchair so I too can go faster and further than I can walk with crutches. What freedom! A whole new world has opened up for me. I am able to go for “strolls” on the local bike path, walk the entire Mall, travel by MBTA into Boston, and explore the main streets and back roads of cities and towns! Using my wheelchair is a joy.

Some may say it’s easy for me to feel joyful about my wheelchair because I’m able to walk with crutches.  I only use my wheelchair when I choose to, not because I have to. This is true and I’m aware of how “needing” to use a wheelchair can make a big difference in how joyful it feels.  Since I’ve “needed” to use crutches my whole life, I reflected on… What is my relationship with my crutches?

As with any relationship, it’s complex and has many dimensions. When I was real little, they were just another part of me — no big deal. When I was seven years old, my family moved from Medford to Winchester. Being the new kid in school is when I saw my crutches through the eyes of the other kids as something that made me different — and not in a good way. My crutches were also the reason why I couldn’t walk fast enough or far enough to keep up with everyone else.

My crutches were blamed as the reason I couldn’t play like all the other kids at recess. The reason why kids in High School didn’t ask me to go with them downtown or to the Mall.  I was convinced that my crutches and disability were the source of all my problems and the reason why I was not included.

As a teen and young adult, I stubbornly used wooden crutches, even though aluminum crutches became available. In my mind, wooden crutches were used more often by people who broke their legs and only needed to use them temporarily. And I wanted people to think my crutches — and disability — were temporary, not permanent. Eventually, I did begin using aluminum crutches, which were much lighter, except they squeaked and rattled — which I hated.

My big crutch breakthrough came when I made the decision to buy a pair of “permanent” titanium custom designed crutches. They’re gray, sleek and awesome! When I bought these obviously “permanent” crutches, something shifted inside of me. I reclaimed the part of myself that needs crutches to walk because I’m disabled.  My crutches became just another part of me again. I still had a long journey to go with accepting all the other aspects of living with a disability, but I was ready to admit to the world that I used permanent crutches because I had a permanent disability.

I can best describe my current relationship with my crutches as — I have great respect and appreciation for them. They enable me to leave the house and walk out into the world — literally. And if I want to go faster or further than I can walk on crutches, I now have my wheelchair.

5 thoughts on “Greater Mobility with a Disability

  1. Yes! We bought my son’s chair (and had to fight to get it a bit) when he was only 2.5. He wanted to go fast and I wanted to give him everyway to keep up with his peers. People didn’t understand why I would “put him in a chair” when he could walk. As it turned out he now walks on his own and even gave up his walker. But I like that we have the chair for the future when we can’t carry him or he doesn’t want to ride in a stroller. Right now he doesn’t have a negative view of wheelchairs, seeing it instead as a tool to zoom.

  2. I have used crutches all my life also and our way of approching crutches is extreemly similar. I agree it is a really good idea to use a chair as a way to achieve more independence. Manageing mobility rather than waiting for whatever comes that we have to accept. I had not thought of it this way until I saw a similar post the other day. Really… would we go on the highway before taking driving lessions.

  3. I have used crutches for 30 years Ibroke my leg about 30 years. Because I fell.The casse
    Of my fall was the beginning of my Multiple sclerosis. As my MS has progressed I discovered a wheelchair WAs necessary.I now also have a power Scooter ,vary nice.
    I’m planning a trip in April to Israil .will take my wheelchair and my Fetterman crutches.
    A Friend who works I leather made me a pouch to attach to myncruvhes.
    I have enough hobbies like writing reading,painting raising indoor plants and active in several clubs that my life is very full and active .I love my life and love my Lord.Eventually life is soo rewarding ,being disabled no longer is a issue

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