When I was little, I walked everywhere using a walker. I pushed and walked, huffed and puffed to get where I was going. And I’d get there, but it wasn’t exactly efficient.
It wasn’t safe, either. I wore full length leg braces made of heavy plastic and metal that had to stay locked at the knees to support me. Because my legs were stuck straight, when I’d fall (which was often), I’d go down like a tree.
By the time I reached 3rd grade, it had become clear that walking wasn’t the ideal form of mobility everyone said it was. But the message that had come from physical therapists, my pediatric orthopedist, and plenty of other well-meaning ambulatory people who didn’t quite get it was that I had to stay on my feet. Even so, it was time for my first manual wheelchair.
I chose a bright pink for the frame, which I was pretty pumped about. But I didn’t immediately start using the chair all the time. I continued to strain my body, walking all the way through middle school, only using the chair as a last resort. And while it’s true that weight-bearing is good for bone and muscle strength, it’s not always so good for pain levels.
So, as I got older, I gradually began transitioning toward full-time wheelchair use. In high school I got my first power wheelchair. It was honestly a revelation. I loved being able to go far and move fast. And because I wasn’t completely exhausted from forcing myself to walk long distances, I had more energy to focus on school and socializing. I could focus on being a kid.
These days, I use my power chair whenever I’m out and about, and often in the house too. And just last month, I got a brand-new ride—a Quantum Edge 3 with iLevel®. It’s purple and it’s a real beauty. When it arrived, it felt kind of like my birthday. Or at least a very festive mobility holiday.
None of this is to say that I don’t recognize how using a wheelchair can be fraught with emotions. I was born with my disability and I’ve had nearly 2 decades to adjust to life as a wheelchair user. I know it’s different for many people, especially if you begin to use a wheelchair later in life due to an acquired or developed disability. Even though a wheelchair may be associated with a difficult time, wouldn’t it be great if receiving a wheelchair was viewed as something positive? A tool to get around. A move forward. Imagine if, upon getting a new wheelchair, the response from people around you was, “congratulations on your new form of mobility!”
Here’s the thing: people don’t tend to think about wheelchairs that way. They’re just cumbersome medical equipment in the minds of most people. They’re things that people are “bound” to. But I’ve never thought about it that way. I’m not wheelchair bound. That term makes my skin crawl.
My wheelchair is my freedom. It’s how I get around. It’s how I experience the world. I’m proud to live life on wheels.
About Emily: Emily Ladau 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 in Long Island and enjoys traveling and trying new restaurants. Click here to learn more about Emily.