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Let's Remove the Social Stigma Surrounding the Use of Mobility Devices

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As many of you know, my background is in the health care field and I have a passion for helping people. 

Of course, I can end that sentence right where it was, but to elaborate, I want to help people have the best quality of life that they can possibly have. I feel like we owe it to ourselves to live our best possible lives. For some of us, that will include the use of a device of some sort to assist us in doing so. Don't we all use tools to help make our lives easier? We use a power drill instead of a screwdriver. We use electric saws, when an old school hand saw does same job. Right? Well, some of us use a wheel chair, mobility scooter, or other assistive device in order to help us explore the world.

Some of my patients were embarrassed to have to use a wheel chair, walker, or cane. It was an understandable blow to their pride, and it was sometimes a struggle to convince them that they needed these tools in order to help them live a better life. As a C.N.A., getting someone with Vertigo to agree to use a cane was a huge win, because it could potentially save their life, and will definitely stop them from further injuring themselves in a fall. To the 40 year old patient, using a cane meant they were "old" or "handicapped." Sometimes, it simply took explaining that people with a broken leg need crutches, at least on a temporary basis. Sometimes, patients have to decide on their own that they need, and I can finally stop begging. Using a tool to keep you from further injuring yourself is the smartest way to remain active and independent in some situations, and I applaud those who do so. 

The biggest hurdle for my patients wasn't always their perception of themselves using a mobility tool - it was the social stigma towards anyone who seemed handicapped. These human beings were afraid of being looked down upon by a society that they belong to. My patients didn't want to be treated differently in any way, be it pity, disgust, or otherwise. It wasn't until they were personally in a position where they had to use a mobility tool that they were forced to stare the stigma in the face and decide if they were going to allow it to restrict the quality of their life moving forward. Fortunately, for most of my patients, the answer became clear the first time they were able to leave their hospital room and go outdoors with the assistance of some device. I'm hoping that we, as society can move past treating people differently because they use a wheelchair. 

Some people aren't 100% disabled, but they can't necessarily walk all day to cover the ground at an event, or do so without pain. People in wheelchairs are sometimes able to stand, walk and move around without the assistance of any device. Regardless of their level of disability (or ability), we should encourage everyone to go out and do the things that they enjoy. It's healthy for us to be out enjoying life, if nothing else but for the mental stimulation and distraction from the difficulties of not being mobile. By looking at people differently, speaking about them as if they don't exist, or speaking to them in different, child-like tones, you're being condescending and making them uncomfortable. Don't pity people with disabilities. Treat them as the human beings that they are, with kindness and respect; just as you'd expect to be treated.

Selma Blair

Selma Blair showing up at the Vanity Fair Oscar party in her beautiful formal gown and her stylish chic cane is honestly what inspired me to finally put some of my thoughts on the disability stigma into this post. I've thought of writing a blog post about ableism for a long time, but I think she makes it relatable for so many people. She's young, and although she may regain all of her abilities, she is currently in need of a tool to help her be active. In case you're not aware of what I'm referring to, you can see the entire interview HERE. This video chronicling her diagnosis of MS, taped while she is in a flare up and having trouble talking is so brave and inspiring. Her struggle with getting a diagnosis is frustrating, and relatable as many people have similar issues. Then her showing up on the red carpet with a cane is an ultimate win for normalization of mobility aides. The amount of awareness that she's brought to MS and disability in general is amazing and inspiring.

Picture Credit: George Pimentel|Getty Images 2019

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