Using a mobility aid is more helpful than hindering

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A woman is using a mobility aid in park. She is sitting down on her  Image result for walking frame chair combined A rollator is often called a "rolling walker with a seat".

"Respect yourself enough to use a mobility aid, to ease your exhaustion, to soothe your pain, to go farther than you’ve gone." | Photo credit: ©Irina / Adobe Stock 

A mobility aid is more helpful than a hindrance

What would others think if you didn't use your mobility aids?

Most articles about mobility aids are often centered on how disabled people "shouldn't care" what other people think. This article subverts this narrative. In doing so, the article discusses how disabled people who refuse to use mobility aids perpetuate a cycle wherein risking increasing their pain and exhaustion and limiting how far they can go. This may inadvertently contribute to other disabled people doing the same. 

I have been a wheelchair-user for over fifteen years, though I could have benefited from using a wheelchair earlier in my life. I say, ‘I could have benefited’ because I, like many disabled people, do not subscribe to the idea that a person is “wheelchair-bound." In fact, my current wheelchair—equipped with all-terrain wheels and personalized accessories—has enabled me to travel further than my legs ever could. With my legs, I could go to the edge of my bedroom, before collapsing.

With my wheelchair—and extensive budgeting—I have been able to live, and journey, across the United States and Europe. I have navigated the A-Train in Manhattan and the Underground in London. I have sat on accessible beaches in Barcelona and vaporetto-boats in Venice. 

I have taken pictures beneath the mountains of Colorado and above the twinkling lights of Paris. With my wheelchair, I have been enabled to go just about anywhere. I benefit from my mobility aid, as do many of my fellow disabled advocates.

Using a mobility aid in public often comes with an unhealthy dose of social stigma

Granted, using a mobility aid in public often comes with an unhealthy dose of social stigma. I have experienced this stigma in the trifecta of my personal life, my advocacy, and in my role as a doctoral researcher. I have talked to multiple people—both in participant interviews and in casual conversations—who have expressed anxiety about publicly using mobility aids. 

I have also seen this topic discussed by many disabled content creators across social media. TikTok, in particular, contains a plethora of videos, created by disabled individuals who express anxiety about using mobility aids for the first time.

To the anxious ones, I could tell you that it doesn’t matter what other people think, but we all know that isn’t true. In fact, flippantly dismissing the negative attitudes of others, on the grounds that it shouldn’t matter what they think, is a privilege that disabled people do not have. 

We need to worry about the negative attitudes of the non-disabled people with whom we share this world, especially since negative attitudes often lead to negative actions. Thus, I am not writing this article to dismiss the valid concerns that many disabled people have expressed. Instead, I am writing this article to argue that using a mobility aid is more helpful than hindering.

Using a mobility aid reduces individual pain and suffering

The first benefit of using your mobility aid is the reduction of your individual pain and suffering. I have felt this pain. Though I have always lived with Spina Bifida, I experienced true paralysis at the age of twelve.

Throughout middle school and high school, I shuffled through mobility aids like cards. Yet, I wasn’t choosing the aid based on how it would have benefited me. Instead, I was choosing the most discreet aid that I could find, even if it was the least helpful. I accepted my own discomfort to ease the discomfort of the non-disabled people in my life. ‘Surely,’ I wrongly thought, ‘using a cane is not as bad as using a walker, using a walker is not as bad as using a wheelchair, using a wheelchair for a few hours is not as bad as using a wheelchair fulltime, etc.’

In this mental hierarchy, crafted through teenage logic and encouraged by social stigma, using a wheelchair full-time was a failure of my endurance and pain tolerance. I soon realized, as I have explained above, that using a wheelchair full-time gave me more independence than any other mobility aids. I also realized that it is not the responsibility of disabled people to suffer for the comfort of non-disabled people. 

As Sonya Renee Taylor says, “Your body is not an apology.” I want to add onto this beautiful mantra by arguing that, as empowering extensions of your body, mobility aids are not an apology. Do not put yourself through pain for the comfort of others.

Mobility aids are not an apology. They are empowering extensions of your body.

If you’re like me, however, this is easier said than done. It’s easy to say, “Don’t be ashamed of the things that others find shameful.” It's harder to fully embrace this mantra. As discussed above, worrying about what other people think is practically an inherent survival skill of disabled people (and those in other marginalized communities).

With that said, I propose this simple question: what would others think if you didn't use your mobility aids? Our fears and anxieties have us focusing on how the people in our lives might feel if we did use our mobility aids. I’m changing the narrative. How would others would feel if we don’t use our mobility aids, if we forgo empowerment and accept pain, for the benefit of others?

Consider that putting yourself through these ordeals—experiencing greater levels of pain, only allowingyourself to travel short distances, exhausting yourself, etc.—contributes to a negative cycle, wherein mobility aids are shunned and remained shunned. Consider that the non-disabled people in your life may feel validated, as you (however unintentionally) agree with them that the use of mobility aids should be stigmatized.

More importantly, consider the other disabled people in your life. What if other disabled
people saw you endure these limitations and began to doubt their own usage of mobility aids? 

What if these disabled people put themselves through pain, exhausted themselves to the core, and limited how far they could go (literally), because they had seen you model this behavior? Disabled people are examples unto ourselves. 

We live by supporting one another. We share ways of accessing comfort and interdependence. We cannot limit ourselves for the convenience of non-disabled people. We must live for ourselves and our community.

Respect yourself enough by using a mobility aid(s) to ease your exhaustion, to soothe your pain

Respect yourself enough to use the mobility aid(s), to ease your exhaustion, to soothe your pain, to go farther than you’ve gone. Respect your disabled peers enough to model that mobility aids are not only valid, they’re empowering. Respect life enough to live it to the fullest by using everything within your power. Mobility aids are within your power. Mobility aids are empowering. Use them.

“Using mobility aids is essential for individuals to whom walking aids are useful because these devices provide the necessary support and assistance, enabling them to maintain their independence and navigate through their daily lives with greater ease and confidence.”

Article by
Burgandi Rakoska

Burgandi Rakoska, the author of "Using a mobility aid is more helpful than hindering," is a wheelchair-user, a writer, an intersectional advocate, and a doctoral researcher at the University of Leeds' Centre for Disability Studies.