Here’s a thing which I’ve encountered many, many times since I began using my mobility aid, my cane. I could be at a doctor’s office waiting room, or getting vitals taken by a nurse; I could be grocery shopping or at the pharmacy, it really happens anywhere, with a lot more frequency that I think it should. What is this thing of which I speak? The inevitable question of, “Why do you use the cane?” or sometimes, “What happened that you use that cane?” It may seem a benign sort of thing to ask. I’ll admit, on the surface it seems harmless, but for those of us who use a mobility device for long term aid, it is intrusive. I’ve given this a lot of thought, but I can’t seem to figure out if this way of thinking is a relic of the past. Am I old fashioned in feeling that it’s just none of anyone’s business why I use the cane, or why someone uses a walker, or wheelchair? I distinctly remember being intrusive with one of my mom’s friends and asking her something that made my mom blanch and scold me right then and there. I can’t recall what I asked, but I definitely remember being told that it was none of my business. But the people who often ask me are not always young, in fact, many times they are ten-to-twenty years older than me. Has society changed so much that they no longer find these questions intrusive? While that may be, I’m going to share with you why I don’t think it’s okay.
The mobility aid is an extension of the person: Most people don’t understand that a mobility aid, be it a cane, walker, wheelchair or anything else, is an extension of the one using it. It continues where my body fails and it helps me get around. I don’t view it as separate from my body, nor as an object. It is as much a part of me as my leg is.
- Possible Trigger: It’s strange to me that anyone would ask questions without wondering if there might be a painful reason for which a person is using a mobility aid. Even for me, where my need for the cane is not considered a “traumatic event,” the reasons why dredge up all the ways in which my body has betrayed me. Not only that, it reminds me of everything that chronic pain/illness has robbed me of. This may not seem like a trigger to some, but just like a catastrophic accident can alter life as you knew it, so has chronic pain/illness for me.
- Privacy: This is one of the biggest reasons why you shouldn’t be intrusive. Everyone wants and should expect some privacy in their lives. I know that sphere of privacy is getting smaller and smaller today, but we should try. Our mobility aid is not an open invitation to scrutinize through our medical history. For the vast majority of us, there is no clear and decisive reason for why we use our cane or walker or wheelchair, and we shouldn’t have to explain it.
- Justification? Validation?: We shouldn’t feel as though we have to explain or justify our reasons for using a mobility aid. This falls into privacy and other than our caregivers and doctors and anyone else we choose, there is no reason why anyone outside this group needs to know.
- It’s not for fun: Disabled people who use mobility aids do not use them for fun. They aren’t temporary. Even if you see someone get up from their wheelchair, it doesn’t mean they are faking and no one has the right to assume that. Disability is long term and so is the mobility aid, which is used so that they can continue their life with some sense of normalcy. It’s so they can go to work, go shopping, pick up the kids at school, or go on a date. The list of things is endless because life goes on.
Disability is the furthest thing from being fun. People don’t go out seeking disability and it’s not generally seen as cool, though I know some pretty awesome people who are disabled. Even with the lovely, Selma Blair, giving people a glimpse of an MS flair and leaving everyone breathless in her stunning dress- complete with cane- I’m doubtful that this would lead to a stampede on canes. I could be wrong, but my point is that in the many ways that people could attain the status of “cool,” it’s unlikely a cane or wheelchair will fall into the requirements. My thought that I will leave you with is this that we are no different from you. We want to be respected and we want our privacy to be honored, just as you would. You may not understand our pain or our illness, but maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t matter. Maybe, the only thing that matters is our humanity and treating each one another in a way that honors that humanity.
Liza is a chronic pain warrior from Houston who has been chronicling her journey through chronic pain and illness on her blog: http://lovekarmafood.com. She is a frequent and valued contributor to the National Pain Report.