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How I Changed My Relationship With My Mobility Aids

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Over the years of being ill, I have struggled with internalized ableism and admitting I needed help. My wheelchair and cane were essential, but I hid from admitting I had to use them. In photos I asked people to help me up and allow me to lean on them for support so my aids weren’t the center of my picture when I looked at them. When I saw people from before I fell ill, I would wish I could be swallowed up by the floor beneath me so they wouldn’t see me like this.

Recently I realized this internalized ableism is part of why my self-esteem is so low. As much as I would like for my chronic illness to get better, I need to be able to love the current me, the girl who needs a wheelchair and cane but isn’t defined by them. If I’m honest, I’m ashamed about letting myself feel this way for so long. So I decided to personalize my mobility aids so they became an extension of me rather than an unwanted clinical-looking addition.

Since I became ill almost 13 years ago, I have been teaching myself various crafting skills, and regularly experiment with materials and techniques. So I was quite excited to take on this project with the knowledge I’ve gained so far. It’s the best thing I have ever done for myself — a gift that has completely changed my relationship with my mobility aids and given me a much-needed boost in confidence!

I bought the cheapest, plain black-colored spoke guards I could find online. I use Cricut vinyl a lot, so I investigated what would stand up to heavy use, especially outdoors with the rain or UV. I found they sell a product called “permanent vinyl” and it was on a 3 for 2 offer at a craft store. I chose three colors and decided to center the design around lyrics from a song by my favorite band that I relate to strongly. I cut these out on an ancient cutting machine I own and then cut out butterflies, (because I love them most), botanical elements and swirls. You don’t need a cutting machine though, you can cut with scissors or punches.

I added the lyrics first, then sat and treated it like a huge puzzle with no real “right” pieces. I did the same with my cane. The three rolls of vinyl allowed me to do both sides of my spoke guards, my cane and I sent some leftovers to a friend who admired my efforts!

Elaine's wheelchair spoke guard decorated with butterflies and vines made of purple and white cricut vinyl.

Since I posted the photos of my efforts online, it’s meant a lot to me to see the reactions from my loved ones and strangers. No matter their abilities, people were supportive of the art I created and wanted to know how I created it. I started to see my mobility aids as something to be proud of. Instead of dreading using them, I now see them as an extension of myself and an attractive addition to my life.

If you have ever felt like I did, I encourage you to seek to change your relationship with your mobility aids. We all have different ability levels and tastes, but honestly there are so many ways to decorate your mobility devices, and I truly believe it’s worth it every time! Mine looks complex but it was actually pretty manageable, and I tried to enjoy the process as much as the finished article. Jump down Pinterest rabbit holes for ideas, take inspiration from Google or this article. Allow yourself the freedom to express yourself in whatever way suits you best, and you can start to move away from the unhelpful concepts that cause us to feel this way.

You deserve to enjoy your life right now. You are worthy and you matter!

Elaine's cane decorated with cricut vinyl.

Originally published: July 24, 2019
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