To the Able-Bodied: Mobility Aids–>FYI

When I set up this blog, I swore to myself that I was not going to be a chronically cranky blogger. But here I am writing my first post, and I am cranky as hell. Consider yourselves warned: this post would be most accurately characterized as a rant, but hopefully an educational one…

I want to say a few words about mobility aids (aka assistive devices, depending on who you talk to. I have a strong personal preference for the former terminology). Mobility aids range from something as simple and discrete as an orthotic, which gets tucked way inside the shoe and provides the walker with a greater degree of stability, a broader range of movement, and with any luck, less pain, to motorized scooters and power wheelchairs.  In short, they include any kind of tool that gives its user more and/or better quality mobility.  Let me say that one more time but in a different way: the goal of a mobility aid is always MORE function, not less.  So.  We are trained in our post-industrial, frenzied, highly competitive society to assume, when we see someone using a mobility aid, that that person is somehow defective, incapable of holding her own in the rat race, or even in need of pity.  Even those of us (and there are many) who try not to view others or ourselves this way still have to constantly struggle against this default perspective on the differently-abled body.  So next time the opprtunity presents itself (and I assure you that it will, everyday, everywhere–you just have to look), try assuming that the person moving to the rhythm of her cane or crutch as it strikes the pavement or rolling smoothly along in her wheelchair is actually, with the help of her mobility aid, as capable as you.  Try seeing her for what she is in conjunction with the tool(s) she uses: empowered and, should she desire to do so more than ready to conquer the world.

And.  There is one other less positive, more annoying point that I have to make here. (But first I would like to thank the young woman at the check-in desk at my fitness club, whose mouth gaped open and whose grey eyes bulged wildly as she watched me hobble into the center with my forearm crutch (after a long walk from my car) and then later cross the short distance from the women’s locker room to the elliptical machines unaided).  NOT EVERYONE WHO USES MOBILITY AIDS USES THEM ALL THE TIME!!! Further, not everyone who uses a mobility aid uses the SAME mobility aid all the time.  Somedays our bodies cooperate with us better than others.  (And yes, this surprises us just as much as it surprises you, if not more so.) Some walking (or rolling) surfaces are more difficult than others.  For example, if I am not too tired I can walk three LONG blocks on the smooth wide sidewalks that criss-cross Washington, D.C. unaided and with (comparatively) little effort.  But.  I cannot walk two (significantly shorter) blocks over the cobblestones of Paris or Rome (especially if they are wet and slippery) without help, that is, without my crutch.  Oh sure, I can try.  But if you are with me, you probably don’t want me to.  Within minutes I will be in pain, I will feel myself begin to limp, I will slow both you and ME down, and most importantly my level of crankiness will rapidly exceed the one expressed in this post.  Remember what I said about mobility aids being empowering? Perhaps I should also add that when employed in the right circumstances, they can improve EVERYONE’S mood.  Anyway.  One last point about mobility aid employment that may surprise you (It certainly did me when I first began using mine.): Many people who use mobility aids use no mobility aid or a significantly different mobility aid in their homes, and should they come visit, in your home.  For example, someone who uses a cane or crutch for distances or difficult surfaces may walk unaided at home.  Someone who uses a wheelchair at work may use a walker at home.  Or someone who uses a wheelchair all the time may use a power chair in some places and a manual or athletic model in others.  The point is this: When you see someone whose use of a particular mobility aid appears inconsistent, please do not award them with a gape-mouthed stare. Please do not make judgements or assumptions.  Please do not tell all your friends around the water cooler that you think so and so is faking her mobility problem, because “You know, she can walk.” If you really are curious about why we move the way we do and with what tools ASK. Genuine, polite questions are ALWAYS more welcome than stares or gossip.

That is all. For now.

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