Respect for Mobility Aids

Respect for Mobility Aids2

I am nearsighted and have worn glasses since I was a child. Nowadays, I wear them pretty much 95% of the day; when I’m on the computer, watching TV, or just existing in the world. If I wear them while I’m reading, however, they tend to give me a headache, so when I take up a book or anything printed, I’ll take off my glasses and set them down on the nearest surface.

Surprisingly, even when my glasses aren’t on my face, people still seem to understand that they’re my glasses, even if they’re not in use at that exact moment. Nobody picks them up to try them on, moves them away from me, or sets them out of my reach. It is commonly understood that those unused-at-the-moment glasses are still a part of me and that I might retake possession of them at any moment.

So why isn’t the same respect shown to my walker?

I’ve been using a walker (rollator) more or less full-time since the summer of 2016. At first, I was still mobile enough that I could leave it somewhere and make my way around if I had things to hold on to; walls, furniture, other people. As my disability and my awareness of how disability works in society evolved, I no longer dare to walk even short distances without my walker. All the workarounds I found over the years to make me look less disabled I no longer, first of all for my own safety, and second of all because I now accept that my walker is a part of me, just like glasses or hearing aids or prosthetic limbs or canes or wheelchairs can be for other disabled people.

I don’t know if it always used to happen that people touched my walker without my permission and I just didn’t notice because I didn’t absolutely need it to move around yet, but recently I’ve become severely annoyed at this tendency to grab and move my walker. I wish ableds would realize that a mobility device is not an accessory we can use; it is an aid we have to use. Just as you wouldn’t take my glasses away from me, don’t take my walker away from me.

“But a walker is bigger than glasses,” you might say.

That is not untrue. It is also not an excuse. A walker, like any mobility aid, is not like a stroller. It isn’t something that can be put away until the next time it is needed. If my walker is out of my reach, I can’t move. Period. If we’re at a restaurant and you go put my walker against the wall out of the way “so it doesn’t bother the waiters,” I literally can’t get off my chair until—if—somebody remembers to bring it back to me. This is extremely infantilizing as if I was a toddler stuck in a high chair until the end of the meal.

Except I’m not a toddler; I’m a fully functioning adult.

I should be able to get up when I want to. And taking my walker out of my reach makes that independence impossible. During the time my mobility aid is out of my reach, I am entirely dependent on somebody else. To be able to function normally, and that is not okay.

“Sorry, would you mind moving your walker a bit so people can walk by?” “Can I move your walker for a second to grab [something behind it]? I’ll put it right back.” “I’m sorry, we need this space to be clear because of [a very valid reason]. Could we move your walker to the other side of the table?” I’m not a monster! I know my walker is big, unwieldy, and takes up space.

I’m the one who has to go everywhere with it.

And lift it up and down into my car all the time. Believe me, I wish it didn’t exist sometimes. But it does exist, and I need it, so people need to meet me halfway. Sometimes, it might be literally impossible for me to keep my walker near me. And that’s fine, I won’t bite anyone’s head off. As long as it’s discussed with me before someone simply takes it away. And in most cases I think of where this has happened before, there was no reason for it. So the abled waiter would have had to walk three extra steps before reaching my table (if that)? Small price to pay for my independence, don’t you think?

The moral of the story: Mobility aids are essential and are not to be treated like disposable accessories. And you should always ask a disabled person if you can touch/move their device before doing it.

We would like to thank Elise for sharing her story with us. As always, we welcome your thoughts and value your feedback.  Let us know what you think by Dropping Us a Line or commenting below.

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