Walking vs Wheelchair: Accepting the Need for a Wheelchair

I was recently invited to write a guest post for the lovely SimplyEmma.

You can view my post for Emma here.

I’ve noticed a lot of discussion, within Facebook groups, around the topic of walking versus the use of a wheelchair.

Many disabled people gradually lose the ability to walk over a period of time. Often it occurs in stages: from independent mobility, to the need for walking sticks, then a frame and finally a wheelchair.

I appreciate that for the individuals affected, it is an incredibly difficult decision to make. Do I continue to walk for as long as possible, despite the struggle and restraints? Or, do I resign myself to the confines of a wheelchair?

I have noticed, from comments on social media, that this is how some view wheelchairs: objects of confinement and restriction.

On the contrary, I see my wheelchair as an essential mobility aid, removing the limitations I faced when walking for only short durations. The powered chair I now use offers me freedom and independence.

Obviously, your condition and individual circumstances determine whether or not you have the option to continue walking.

Personally, I never had a choice. I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy and lost the ability to walk quite abruptly at the age of 10. Not that I could walk very well or very far up to that point.

Nevertheless, the choice was taken from me. I had reached a stage where I literally couldn’t support my own weight. Grit and determination played no part. And so, I went from walking minimal distances whilst wearing leg splints, to using a manual wheelchair that I couldn’t self propel due to a lack of strength and joint contractures. Sticks and frames were of no use to me whatsoever.

It was a difficult transition, of course. But not totally unexpected. As a child, I was offered little assurance of how my condition would progress. Doctors simply didn’t know. They couldn’t tell me if I would maintain my ability to walk or not. It was a case of, wait and see; roll with the punches. So that’s what I did.

To be honest, I was to a large extent relieved to be using a wheelchair, despite the fact I was dependant on others to manoeuvre me around. Even just a few small steps was a huge feat and physically laborious. That in itself was disabling me.

Committing to a wheelchair full time meant that I was free to roam with my peers. Kids at school used to squabble over whose turn it was to push me around. I was no longer exhausted, battling to stay on my feet or falling over and injuring myself. Being non-ambulant, I no longer had to wear those unsightly leg splints, which pleased me no end!

I had recently started middle school and, within a matter of a few weeks, I found myself completely unable to weight-bear.

However, less than twelve-months later, I was fortunate enough to benefit from my first powered wheelchair. I can’t emphasise enough how much of a difference this made to my life.

I could zip around at break times with friends, I could take myself wherever I wanted to go without the need for assistance, and I could venture into the local countryside. I was no longer confined!

It’s been eighteen years since I took my last footstep. And, I can honestly say I don’t miss walking. Naturally, I wish I could stand, walk and run ‘normally’. But I would never trade my wheelchair for my old leg splints, the bumps and bruises from falling so often, and the constant exertion to achieve a few small steps.

Not that I have a choice.

4 thoughts on “Walking vs Wheelchair: Accepting the Need for a Wheelchair”

  1. Very admirable. My polymyositis has progressed to where i use a walker when leaving the house and limit my walking distance but would miss walking if I no longer were able. However, that being said, i am so tired of falling and hurting myself. So, I admire your positive attitude!!

    1. Hi Sandra, thanks so much for your kind words!
      I completely understand where you’re coming from.
      I became completely non-ambulant at age 10 and prior to that I was only able to walk short distances with the aid of leg splints. I too used to fall very frequently – I still have the scars on my knees!
      The fact that you keep walking as much as possible despite falling and hurting yourself, shows your own positive attitude and determination!

  2. I’m mobile yet I’ve got into reading Carrie’s blog LIFE ON THE SLOW LANE, which has really opened my eyes. These blogs about wheelchair use should be more widely blogged so “walking” people will understand the hassles that wheelchair-bound folk face, and also make them appreciate that they can bloody WALK. I live in France and everywhere – it seems – public places are wheelchair-friendly. Most swimming pools have hoists into the water. And there are ramps everywhere. And in my experience French people (with all their faults!) NEVER park in disabled parking spots. Maybe I am wrong, but I do feel that France caters much more to disabled folk than England.

    1. Thanks, Alison! Really appreciate you taking the time to feedback!
      Really interesting to learn about the improved access in France. I have visited a few times but not in years.

      I wish we could say that access for disabled people is just as good throughout the UK.

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