Over a year into the pandemic, and we’ve reached a point where I’m about to say something I never thought would: I miss my mobility aids.
It’s no secret that I became a wheelchair user somewhat reluctantly. I spent years grappling with the stigma of using mobility aids as a young person with a less-visible disability, and equally as much time utterly bewildered by just how inaccessible our world still is.
You haven’t learned anything about ableism until you’ve attempted to make just a simple trip out of the house on wheels. All of that said, my relationship with mobility aids has changed radically over the years, and becoming more comfortable with my wheelchair and power-chair has allowed me to appreciate just how much of a positive difference they’ve made to my life.
Without them I would be stuck indoors more often than not due to my chronic illness, and who could possibly want to be stuck indoors during some of the best years of their life? Cue global pandemic.
Over the last year, I’ve barely visited any public places. Any trips out of the house have been short enough for me to stand and walk without requiring wheels, and as a result, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used George (my transit wheelchair) and Janice (my power-chair) in the last twelve months.
Now, sat here writing this piece in April 2021, I feel as though I owe my mobility aids an apology. It wasn’t you, it was me. I didn’t realise that what we had was special. Be mine again?
My goodness, navigating the world on wheels and dealing with stigma can be an utter nightmare... but I miss it! I miss having the autonomy to explore the world at my own pace. I miss spending time outdoors without making myself poorly for the days and weeks following my trip.
I miss being able to say yes to plans without overly worrying about how much standing and walking will be required. I miss my mobility aids. Spurred on by these revelations, I decided to put the question to some of my blogger friends. Has lockdown changed their relationship with their mobility aids?
Georgina of She Might Be Loved shared similar feelings about her newly acquired power-chair: “I'm an ambulatory wheelchair user and I had just started going out more and gaining confidence in my powerchair before the pandemic. I miss the freedom of going out so much, I had such a list of places and things I wanted to visit and do now I’d changed from transit to powerchair, it really opened the world back up. Before the world closed down.
It's hard to believe now how much I really didn't want to use a wheelchair in the first place as I'd give anything for it to be safe enough to head back out on adventures in it!”
Additionally, Kathryn of Chronically Ill Kat shared a very insightful positive of going through lockdown as somebody new to life with mobility aids. “I actually started using a wheelchair for the first time during lockdown and I think it made it much easier for me. It allowed me to start using it gradually and start in quiet places so that I could get over my internalised ableism and shame over time, as opposed to being thrown in at the deep end and having to use it for the first few times in a busy area. By now I am quite used to it and the looks so it will be less of a big step using it in a busy place”.
Holly of The World In My Words also cited changes in the busyness of the world as a concern affecting her relationship with mobility aids as restrictions begin to ease. “As it’s starting get busier when out I’m having to readjust to navigation in my chair. I’m sure a lot of people are experiencing similar as sadly it always seems to be the wheelchair user’s job to ensure the public don’t walk into them.”
Similarly, Georgia of Not So Terrible Palsy shared how not using her wheelchair has led to worries about the impact on her physical health. “I miss using my wheelchair as it is a big part of my identity. I am also concerned about the postural support that I am missing out on. As an occupational therapy student, I understand the importance of 24-hour posture therefore it is concerning when thinking about what future complications could arise from not using my wheelchair.”
Penny of Hope Found In M.E. has also been missing her mobility aids. “It has at times made me feel quite sad, seeing my trusty wheelchair sitting gathering dust. I haven't been out and used it since a hospital visit in July. I became quite protective of it when some mice decided to temporarily move into our home. But thankfully not my wheelchair!
My extremely rarely used mobility scooter is regularly charged for that once in a decade use. "However, Penny also makes the excellent point that in some ways, lockdown has allowed her to discover new mobility aids for use inside the home.
"My other aids continue to be valuable supporters and I have added to them during lockdown. Namely a one hot cup gifted to me which is invaluable, a folding bed table from CareCo, a folding chair for my shower room. And other aids to help with personal hygiene. We even finally changed our bed which was so long overdue, bought online without trying it out.”
It’s safe to say that my own relationship with my wheels has changed over lockdown, and entirely for the better.
Sitting here now, I think I have a gratitude for my mobility aids that just wasn’t there before, and I wholeheartedly look forward to the day they become a more regular part of my life again. I’m not *quite* as excited for the numerous access fails and invasive questions from strangers again, but bring on the “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU THEN?” conversation starters once more.
I’ve had a whole year to think of more creative responses… Has lockdown changed your relationship with mobility aids? Feel free to join in the conversation over on Instagram!