Recently I’ve been reading a lot of forum and blog posts by young people — those still in high school — about the stigma of using assistive devices (walkers, wheelchairs, canes, crutches, etc.) and they all say pretty much the same thing. Assistive devices, of course, help, but they shy away from using them because of this stigma, i.e., they are afraid of how they will be perceived by their peers and what people might say.
I was in high school once, as we all were, and I’ve had or at least tried most assistive devices throughout high school (even at earlier times in my life), so I know these feelings well. Currently, I use a walker or wheelchair depending on my needs. So allow me to tell you that the stigma around using devices is mostly in your head. I can assure you that most adults would rather see you using something that helps you and makes you more comfortable, instead of struggling to get through your day.
As children, teenagers, or even young adults, you may encounter some negativity. But it isn’t really negativity, it’s misplaced curiosity and a lack of understanding. You can combat this by decorating your walker — I know that now you can order custom-colored walkers, for example. When I was younger, I decorated my walker with stickers or tape. This is fun and can be changed as often as you like, and there are endless possibilities as to how you can decorate your devices. For my wheelchair, I put stuffed animals around the back; you can also drape necklaces and the like over it, and stickers and tape are still options as well. Remember that the devices are entirely yours. I think you should express yourself through them as you do your sense of style — they are, after all, extensions of yourself.
The feelings of inadequacy and judgement you feel now will pass with age. You’ll learn that no, people don’t actually stare at you more often or longer when you’re out in public carrying out day-to-day tasks, and if they do it’s because they’re impressed or inspired by you. You learn that it is not a barrier to friendships or relationships, but rather an open door to them if you let it be one and treat it as such.
Maybe the most important piece of advice I can give is to be kind to yourself. It is always worth using something you know will help you if you think you need it. It’s like bringing a jacket “just in case”; you can put it on or take it off as needed, but you can’t do either if you didn’t bring a jacket to begin with. Self-care perhaps is the most important type of care, and people will respect you for knowing how to put yourself first and knowing your needs. By knowing what you need and how to care for yourself, you can verbalize that to someone else — someone will always be willing to help you if you know how to tell them how to help you.
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