Making Peace With Mobility Aids -- Which One Is Right for Me?
Mobility aids have risen in popularity as those with limited abilities have worked to create an atmosphere of radical education and acceptance. However, despite the acceptance, there are unavoidable emotional stages upon hearing the news that you may be in need of such aid.
It can be pretty devastating to find out you need to use a mobility aid. You can no longer do “normal” things. You can no longer go wherever you want, and must always consider the logistics of a harmless night out. It sort of feels like being trapped in a cage — but that’s only for some people. I, on the other hand, saw a mobility aid as an opportunity for excitement.
My story for how I grew to need a mobility aid is fairly complex. I experience chronic pain in my feet due to an extensive history of toe-walking. It goes against the stigma that all individuals who rely on ability aids lack a full ability to walk. For many, it is a symbol of acceptance (and even excitement) at the ability to live life in a freer, less complex way. That was how I saw my personal experience. I knew I’d be able to walk around without experiencing pain. I knew I’d finally be able to participate in gym class and do things other kids could do. I knew I could live the free and healthy life that I deserve — pain-free!
As I walked through the options with the doctor, I was inspired to write a guide to mobility aids based on my own personal experience — with the hope that I would be able to help others like myself to live without pain once again.
Mobility Aid Consideration #1: Comfort During Use
While mobility aids are designed with comfort in mind, many users will tell you that they are not comfortable all of the time!
This is often others’ biggest consideration, which is why I expand the most on this consideration.
I was lucky in my choices. When I had to, using a wheelchair was very comfortable for me. This was mainly because of the relaxed sitting position. It offers ergonomic armrests and footrests, and often the seat and backrest are cushioned.
What I appreciate is that the wheelchair’s cushion was always light and breathable. It is designed to not provide additional heat, but be there just enough to provide you with the firm support that one’s spine so desperately needs.
This is definitely a top-tier option in terms of comfort because you do not have to bend over and use the device — as you normally would for crutches or a cane.
A walker is a strong runner-up, as it is positioned and supported by four separate points and can be supportive of your weight. It does take more effort to move forward than a wheelchair does, and can be difficult to use if you have chronic pain and difficulty with free movement. If you have the ability to walk and simply need extra support to provide you with that extra energy, a walker may be a more comfortable option to rest on.
Crutches provide leg support by having you use your upper body strength to minimize the impact of your body weight on your legs. This is a less comfortable option, as the pads can chafe the armpits and make your upper body ache from the carrying of your own weight. However, forearm crutches are more comfortable.
Mobility Aid Consideration #2: Accessibility and Constraints
If accessibility is a concern for you, here’s the thing. You can’t exactly get up or down stairs with a wheelchair. You can’t (well) with a walker, either.
If you are more mobile and abled in that way, you should take advantage of the versatility and ability that arm crutches or a cane offer you. No matter where you are in public or at home, you can easily get around and access areas you wouldn’t necessarily be able to access otherwise.
Mobility Aid Consideration #3: Ease
This completely varies depending on the person. Personally, I find using a wheelchair the easiest. This is because I am always in the same position, and quickly got used to the mechanics of using one. I could race in it and even play games with friends.
If you are more mobile and coordinated, alternative options may work best for you. This is especially true if you use aids only on an as-needed basis, as with chronic fatigue syndrome or other autoimmune or chronic pain conditions.
Mobility Aid Consideration #4: Visibility in Public
Going out in public with a wheelchair gets you a lot of stares in general. As a young person, so does going out with a walker. I find that going outside with a cane or arm crutches is best when avoiding those pesky stares from strangers, or those repetitive questions.
This is not to say that anyone should feel shame from using mobility aids — but personally, I have experienced anxiety in public due to the unrelenting gaze of strangers. If you find yourself in a position to choose your aid and struggle with public anxiety, this is something to consider.
Here’s a fun story from the time I was in a wheelchair. It was the very last day of school in Grade 6. I was having fun with my wonderful teacher when she decided to take control of my chair. This terrified me. She rolled me through the crowds where the graduates were supposed to walk. Everyone stared at me and tried shaking my hand. Some just completely avoided me. It was incredibly embarrassing. She kept shaking my hand off the wheels. I was so panicked that I was desperately attempting to move out of the center of everyone, driving myself into people. I felt really helpless being stuck in a chair with no power over the situation.
Mobility aids are a powerful tool for people with chronic and acute illnesses. They open the world up to unlimited possibilities and allow us to live vibrant lives. There are many things to consider when choosing the mobility aid that’s right for you — and it’s best to become educated and speak to your doctor about appropriate options.