When I was in third grade, my parents, my doctor, and I made the decision for me to get a manual wheelchair. Up until that point, I’d been walking full-time, using a walker and wearing full-length leg braces for support. I remember the process of learning to walk. I said: “push and walk, push and walk” over and over. Even though I could waddle along pretty quickly, it was an exhausting and cumbersome process, so a wheelchair made sense.
Switching to a Manual Wheelchair
I recall my doctor and my parents expressing concern about me losing my ability to walk. Walking was the most important thing in the whole world. Getting a wheelchair wasn’t necessarily considered a wise idea. So, I tried my best to avoid using the wheelchair, even though I needed it.
Gradually, I began using the wheelchair more frequently. By the time I reached middle school, I found it necessary to help me get around the bigger school building. And then, in high school, the building was even bigger. So, the time came to have a conversation about getting a power wheelchair.
New Power Wheelchair, New School
At this point, both my family and I had come around to accepting my manual wheelchair as a necessary mobility tool to get around, yet a power wheelchair was another big decision. Pushing myself around a giant three-floor school building was wearing me down. Still, I found myself worried about whether I’d be judged as “lazy” for getting around on battery power.
On the first day I went to school in my power wheelchair, I definitely got a few comments from people. (Lots of “slow down, speed racer” and “don’t run me over!”) People weren’t judging me. Turns out, I was judging myself.
I alternated between using my manual wheelchair and my power wheelchair at school. On days where I brought my power wheelchair, I felt like my world had opened. I wasn’t rushing as much to get to classes on time and I wasn’t completely wiped out by the time I got to my desk. I was able to rest my muscles and focus on my work. And I found other ways to maintain strength and movement through physical therapy and exercise.
Using My Power Wheelchair at College
Getting a power wheelchair in high school proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made. By the time I was ready to go to college, I was a pro at navigating with it. It empowered me to get around my university’s campus with ease and speed. And since then, it’s been my faithful companion wherever I travel, whether it’s down the block or across the country. Looking back, I wish someone had told me that wheelchairs shouldn’t be a source of shame. They’re a source of mobility and freedom.
About Emily Ladau: Emily is a blogger and serves as the editor in chief of Rooted in Rights. She co-hosts a podcast and has been recognized as an emerging leader in the disability community. Emily lives on Long Island and enjoys traveling and trying new restaurants. Click here to learn more about Emily.
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