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Why Holiday Shoe Shopping Is a Challenge for My Daughter With a Disability

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“If the shoe fits, wear it.”

That’s not the sound of me throwing around cliched moral judgments. That’s the sound of a mom who has spent way too much time looking for a holiday party shoe that will fit her daughter’s foot.

Shoe shopping can be difficult for people with disabilities such as spina bifida, spinal cord injury, or cerebral palsy. Their feet are often clubbed, different sizes from each other, or just smaller than the average size for someone their age.

Some people also wear Ankle Foot Orthotics (AFOs) that alter the shape of their feet even more. These braces usually only come with one pair of standard, medical-equipment-brand tennis shoes that cost as much as a pair of high-profile, fashionable kicks. That means you’re on your own to find any other shoe style you might need.

Easier said than done.

Features such as side zippers, Velcro, and wide tongues increase your chances of making a shoe work. But when is the last time you saw a dress shoe with Velcro that wasn’t for a preschooler? Exactly.

From poor fit to lack of fashion, these factors make it difficult to find footwear that a middle school girl with spina bifida can squeeze onto her tootsies, much less something she likes. Apparently, you can only pull off the sporty, wearing-Converse-with-a-dress-look in certain situations.

Not for Christmas. Not for New Year’s.

Usually, shoe shopping in person is a must. None of this ordering online stuff. “Oh, I wear I size 6 — click!” Ha. When you have a disability that affects your feet, you could wear a size 6. Or a size 3. Or a size 8. It all depends on the shape of the shoe, and how it pulls over your foot.

Girls often want a little glitz. They want a little sparkle. They want a little daintiness. In the absence of all that, they’ll take a nice looking boot.

But glitz, sparkle, and daintiness are hard to find for irregularly-shaped feet.

That’s how, one day, I came to the conclusion that Cinderella must have had spina bifida. Think about it. The prince tried that tiny, sparkly glass slipper on every eligible maiden, and it didn’t fit. It was custom-made for a foot that was so unique, it was like no other in the kingdom.

And I can promise you, after seeing my daughter sit in the shoe store trying on slipper after slipper, that her foot is like no one else’s in the kingdom either.

After many trips like that, I started to dread holiday shoe shopping. But this year, we had an amazing, Cinderella-esque experience.

Earlier in the fall, my daughter found a pair of boots on Amazon. They were trendy, black suede ankle boots with a little zipper on the side. She wanted to order them with her own money.

“No,” I said. This will never work. They won’t fit. We will end up having to send them back.”

“But they have a zipper.”

“They do have a zipper.”

Maybe they would open up far enough to get her foot inside. The side zipper was the deciding factor. That, and the fact I had a pair of emergency ballet flats tucked away in case we had a dress shoe crisis with no time to spare.

After waiting a long couple of weeks for our not-available-for-two-day-shipping shoes, the day finally came for them to arrive in the mail. I braced myself for disappointment.

But as if a fairy godmother had zapped those beauties into existence, they slid onto her feet perfectly. It was an unrivaled shoe shopping experience.

In the Cinderella story, when the clock struck midnight and everything else vanished, the shoes remained. In our case, this is holding true as well. Her shoes survived the fall in beautiful shape and saved us from the winter holiday shopping nightmare.

The boots are going to make it through the parties and church services for this year — and I hope through the next. With clubfoot and spina bifida, the foot often doesn’t grow very quickly. So the same pair of shoes, when taken good care of, can last for quite a while.

And until then, my daughter and I are going to enjoy not having to look for footwear alternatives. Because if the shoe still fits, wear it!

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Originally published: December 21, 2016
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