Many people talk about the psychological impact disability has on their lives. One big factor is how they mentally frame their condition and their self-identity. For someone used to living an able-bodied life, learning to adapt and change the way they see themselves and their place in the world, can be a challenge.
Many people find it hard coming to terms with using tools for routine tasks. These might include the simple job of walking from A to B, or even using the bathroom. Some feel a sense of shame that they require help, while others feel exposed to the judgment of others. Overcoming these feelings may take time.
Often there is a temptation to shut oneself away from the world. The idea of using aids like crutches, walking sticks, rollators or wheelchairs is hard to accept for many. Using something like a disabled shower seat in private is one thing, but using a walking frame in public is another matter.
Some disabled people resist the advice of occupational therapists about tools which might assist them. This is usually because they don’t want to draw attention to their disability, they feel embarrassed, or they do not want to invite questions. This can be especially true for a young person.
Walking using disability aids will on occasion lead to questions like “what have you done to yourself?” or “had an accident?” If the truth is in fact that you have a chronic illness or disability which may involve a long story to explain, this may not be welcome.
Many in the community feel it is important to be as visible as possible, in order to gradually normalise disability. By doing this, they argue that it will in turn become less of a talking point and reduce the ‘gawp factor’, hated by so many.
Getting Used to Questions
Julie lives in Hove and developed a spinal condition in her early thirties which meant she could no longer walk unaided. Initially her physio suggested that she use a walking frame. This she did in the privacy of her home, but was resistant to it in public. She did not like the idea of having to explain her situation as she found it distressing and repetitive.
While she could rationalise that she should not feel ashamed, Julie did not enjoy such conversations and would go to great lengths to avoid them. It took nearly a year to have a change of heart. It was only after many discussions with close friends and online with people in similar situations, did she realise that for her, there was a greater good involved.
Although she still disliked the idea of going out in public, she knew that unless she adapted, she would not make the most of her life. In private she made the change far more readily. She started using a disabled shower seat and installed grab rails around the house. She also used a walking frame with wheels to move between rooms.
These changes made a big difference to her mobility at home. As a result, she gradually realised that it was the lesser of the evils to use equipment in public as well. The disabled shower seat, for example, greatly improved her comfort in the bathroom.
A rollator was the first of a series of mobility aids Julie began using outside. This is a simple and robust wheeled walking frame made for outdoor use. As I young woman, it does invite questions, but overall she knows she is better with it than without it.
The rollator has become routine and others are familiar with seeing her with it. It has become a part of her daily life and she no longer fears its use.
Another problem surrounding disability is the inconsistency of its effects. For example, many people may need a wheelchair or mobility aids on some occasions while not at others. When using disabled parking bays, this can cause issues.
If a third party sees someone parking in a disabled bay and walking away from the car, it can lead to accusations. This is all part of the wider misunderstanding in society of the nature of disability.