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It's Not a Miracle. Some Wheelchair Users Can Walk.

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I’m a power chair user, but I also rock a set of crutches, and for some reason that’s difficult for some people to comprehend. Living with chronic pain means my condition varies — every day I’m in pain, but some days are a lot worse than others.

I use crutches around the house and a power chair outdoors, so strangers mostly see me in a chair. When I’m out and about, I get stiff, sore, my muscles spasm, my body aches and I need to stand up from my chair to stretch.

And this is where the problem lies.

Not with me, although I’m in a lot of pain and that’s a problem in itself, but with the public. The second my footrests are raised and I’m rising from my chair as if a deity from above has reached down and pulled me to my feet, all eyes are on me. You can almost hear their necks snap as they turn to give all their attention to the “miracle” that has just taken place before them. 

No, I haven’t suddenly been cured. My legs work; they just really hurt and don’t work as well as I’d like them to. As a matter of fact, everything hurts. For me, my chronic pain is so widespread that even my fingers are painful. That’s why I use a power chair — to help me manage the pain. If you didn’t know people use wheelchairs for chronic pain and for a variety of other reasons, here’s me issuing my public service announcement.

I guess there are a lot of archaic attitudes about why people use wheelchairs, since some believe that all users are incapable of walking. This makes it really difficult for people like me. I don’t want to get up out of my wheelchair and stretch to ease some of the pain because I know there will be eyes on me, judging me, wondering whether I’m faking my disability. I would rather remain in pain in my chair than get up, take a few steps and hear audible gasps from strangers. If I’m desperate to move around and fearful of how my “chair ascension” will look to others, I scope out a disabled toilet and use it as a safe place to stand, stretch and reposition.

Should I have to do that? Why are people so shocked when a wheelchair user can stand and walk? Why is our society constantly insinuating that wheelchair users all require chairs for the same reason? We all have different abilities and different conditions. Some people use wheelchairs full-time and some people don’t. But by making it obvious that you’re looking, shocked, gasping, glaring, taking pictures and making negative comments towards those of us who aren’t full-time users is making it really difficult for us to be ourselves, be comfortable and to change the way people think. 

I want the stigma and awkwardness surrounding standing up from a wheelchair to dissipate. I want people to stop making memes about miracles and accusing people of cheating the system. In an ideal world, I’d stand up from my chair and wouldn’t receive a second glance. 

Furthermore, when I’m using my crutches and there’s clearly no cast on my foot, please don’t ask me, “What have you done to your leg?” It only results in an uncomfortable standoff with me explaining, “Nothing recently, I’m disabled.” Why I’m using crutches, splints and a wheelchair is my business. And although I’m quite open to answering questions (as long as they come from a good place), a lot of other people might be offended because at the end of the day, it’s a very personal question to ask someone you’ve never met before. 

All I want is a bit of thought before you comment or stare. If you’ve never seen a wheelchair user stand, don’t sensationalize it. It’s not affecting your life. Help me get the word out that being in a wheelchair doesn’t mean the same for every user. Not everyone is paralyzed. Not everyone is unable to walk. 

It’s really not a big deal. I can stand up from my wheelchair, but that doesn’t mean my disability is any less valid. Trust me, if a miracle occurred, I’d let you know.

Follow this journey on Sarah in Wonderland.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: December 6, 2016
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