In the next year some of you may be pondering the decision of whether or not to use a wheelchair, if you’re finding walking painful or exhausting.
It’s an incredibly difficult decision, and there are often a few reasons why this hesitation happens. For some it can feel like giving in, that’s you’ve stopped fighting. It can sometimes feel like you’re sacrificing your mobility – that if you have a wheelchair you won’t push yourself walk at all anymore. There can be a stereotype that wheelchairs are for people who cannot walk at all, or just for older people. It can feel embarrassing, or like you’re making a big deal out of your situation. There are lots of valid (and some not so valid) reasons that can make that step a hard one.
The main suggestion I put to people wrestling with this decision is – are you avoiding going to places because you struggle to walk around? Have you stopped going out for a walk with your family, going on a shopping trip or not even considering an evening out with friends?
That’s the position I found myself in a few years ago. I was simply avoiding those activities because walking was so painful. One day someone offered to push me around a supermarket in a manual wheelchair they had available for customers. I hesitated – they were for people with disabilities! Eventually I gave it a go, and the difference it made was incredible. I could spend time looking at what I wanted, browsing through the aisles – something I hadn’t been able to do for a long time. My attitude changed, and I began visiting shops or places I knew had wheelchairs or scooters for customer use. (I also accepted I was one of those people with disabilities during this time.)
I did find being pushed in a manual wheelchair very odd though, but it was my only choice as I’m unable to self-propel. It feels like you’re giving all of your independence over to the person pushing you, and it’s hard to explain what this feels like – as an adult who has been making their own decisions for years. That person has the power to decide where you go and what you will do, and you have to trust them implicitly. It’s also a physically exhausting job for them. There are lots hazards you don’t really consider when walking such as hills, pot holes and curbs, plus generally poor accessibility like having no ramps, tight turns, advertising boards on the pavements and other street furniture. The strain it put on the person pushing made me feel very guilty.
The cost of a wheelchair or scooter can also be difficult to afford. I was provided a manual wheelchair on the NHS, but as I couldn’t use it independently and didn’t have anyone to push me around 24/7, it mostly sat gathering dust. The decision for upgrading the manual was taken out of my hands by damage to my spine that means I can now only walk very short distances. As I was working at the time I was able to apply for grant funding for an electric wheelchair and a hoist for my car that was available to help disabled people in employment. Other options include schemes to lend a chair or scooter for a short period of time, charitable grants or medical insurance that may help towards a purchase. A decent wheelchair will be costly, but it’s also worth considering buying second-hand through private sellers or online outlets.
However, getting a wheelchair changed my world overnight. I’ve been able to go on family outings, visit local parks and enjoy trips out to local shops. It means I can save my energy and pain levels from increasing through walking and use them on enjoying myself instead. I still sometimes feel awkward around family and people I haven’t seen in awhile – but if they can’t accept your need to get around without agonising pain – that’s their problem.
So if you’re sitting at home still trying to make that decision and thinking of the negatives – try to think of all the positive things you could do that you haven’t been able to do in some time if you’ve struggled with walking. A wheelchair could open more of the world to you.