This started off as an appreciation post for my new power-chair, but it’s become so much more. I hope you’ll bear with me, as I think it’s an important topic to cover whatever your current health status.
I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise that farms and faulty health aren’t exactly a match made in heaven. Being a wheelchair user in an urban area comes with countless problems regarding accessibility, but when you factor in the lack of tarmac and level ground found on farmyards, you realise rural life brings along its own set of issues as well…
We’ve been on the look-out for a powered wheelchair which would open up the farm to me again. Trying to find something suitable was a minefield, after all, there isn’t exactly a section for farm-proof wheelchairs. And because I need it specifically for outdoors, there’s no help available via the NHS, as they don’t supply outdoor-only wheelchairs (it seems access to the outside world doesn’t matter if you’re disabled!).
After doing a lot of research, we’ve finally found ‘the one’ (a Quickie Q700, in case you’re like me and want to have a nosey).
It’s amazing how the right wheelchair can massively enhance your life and open up so many more opportunities. I won’t forget how incredibly lucky I am to have been able to afford this, thanks to having parents who are able to financially support me (and repurposing my ‘sheep fund’, something my dad’s ecstatic about!). There are thousands of others who don’t get this opportunity. Disability is expensive, and things like mobility aids carry ridiculous price tags; being able to afford the aids and adjustments you need to improve your quality of life is a privilege, not a given. (Obviously, it shouldn’t come down to luck or privilege, everybody should have access to the mobility aids they need, but that’s a veryyy long discussion for another time.)
Since its arrival in April, we’ve already helped with turning out some cows and calves, lunged the horses (wheelchair-lunging, 10/10 recommend), tried (and failed) to herd alpacas into a shed, and covered 10 miles the last time I checked- and that’s all without even leaving the farm! We have got stuck a few times… but we won’t dwell on that; it’s a learning curve figuring out what it can cope with (muddy gateways are not on that list).
I’m ready to see how it can help me reintegrate a little into the outside world; farmer-on-wheels has a nice ring to it, don’t you think!? But part of me wonders, is the outside world ready for me?
There’s a stigma surrounding disability and mobility aids. They’re often the butt of jokes; in fact, it was only recently that I saw a birthday card which joked it would be time for a wheelchair soon… but what happens when old age isn’t the reason?
Within our society, there are so many connotations of weakness and pity woven into the word disabled, to the point where having a visible sign of your disability is sometimes feared, both by those with and without disabilities. Many people are visibly uncomfortable when confronted with someone using a mobility aid (with the way some people react, you’d think wheelchairs were contagious!).
As a young disabled person, it baffles me that the dialogue surrounding daily living and mobility aids amongst the elderly still revolves around people being “too proud to use …”. What message does that give to the younger generations who find themselves in this situation? What’s wrong with needing something, whatever that is, to make life a little easier and more accessible; people aren’t embarrassed to use a dishwasher instead of washing-up by hand, so why are other aids any different?
I promise I’ll get off my soapbox soon, but these attitudes prompt some people to put off using aids and adaptations, or be actively discouraged by some medical professionals and family alike, to the detriment of their health! If that’s not a good enough reason for change, I don’t know what is.
My mum has MS, and has my whole life; seeing first-hand how aids have enriched her life by being preventatives, as well as necessities, has made it infinitely easier to accept my own need for them. In fact, we’ve come a full circle now, and through seeing how fantastic it has been for me to have a wheelchair which is specifically adapted for my needs, she’s found one for herself, which even lifts her up to reach into cupboards (and prune the hedges in the garden!). As my dad so aptly put it, we’re able to live again and be a part of the world.
This is why I’m writing this piece. To show you CAN embrace your disability aids, and they WILL become your ticket to freedom. If you think something might help you but are hesitant about taking the plunge, then please give it a go! I promise it will get easier the more you use it; you’ll often wonder why you didn’t do it sooner, and will now always be on the lookout for any other things that might be helpful!
This is for the next teenager who feels they need to keep pushing through or refusing help because they’re “too young to be disabled”. For the student afraid to walk down the corridor using their cane. It’s for the woman who’s about to be told “you’d be really pretty without that wheelchair”. For the person who is afraid to be seen as incapable by asking for adjustments to enable them to keep working in the job they love. Or for the man who is worried he will no longer be one of the ‘lads’ if he doesn’t appear perfectly healthy, because apparently, the nemesis of masculinity is disability.
And it’s for me. I still get a fleeting jolt of panic at the thought of someone new finding out about my illness, or about publicly referring to myself as disabled, for fear of people’s misconceptions clouding their view of me and how/if they interact with me, or worse, pitying me. But acceptance is like a muscle, it takes work to maintain and strengthen it.
Disabled is often seen as a ‘taboo’ word. It’s something people often believe comes with a ‘look’, and if you don’t neatly fit in that box (or god forbid, you get out of your wheelchair/discard your stick, and walk around for a bit unaided), you must be playing the system (I often wonder who would actually choose to put themselves through a DWP assessment when they don’t need to, do people also choose to have colonoscopies just for the fun of it?). Disability has many faces, and none are more or less valid.
I want to get to a place where I see it as just the descriptor that it is; after all, by definition, I am disabled. I’ll get there, in time; just have to keep flexing that muscle!