The Ghost of Past Fears: Stigma of Using Mobility Aids When Traveling

Living with multiple chronic illnesses and having limited mobility has forced me to face fears that I never expected to. The stigma that society has placed on who should use a particular mobility aid based on condition or age was one of the toughest for me to get past. I am still told that I am too young to need a wheelchair or walker. Others have doubted the severity of my conditions when they have seen me walking or standing. In order to live my life to the fullest extent, I have had to get over what others think and only concern myself with doing what is right for my body and life. However, even after I appear to have overcome these fears or judgments, there are times when the ghost of that fear comes back to haunt me.


In March 2017, I had the pleasure of flying across the country to Philadelphia to meet the staff and other writers at Health Union. There were a million reasons that I could have been stressed about in regards to this trip. This would not only be my first time traveling alone, but also my first solo trip traveling with my invisible traveling companions. However, I felt confident in embarking on this adventure because I set realistic expectations and have become an expert at packing with the worst case scenario in mind. As the date drew nearer the ghost of past fears paid me a visit. I struggled with the decision of which mobility aid I should take with me. I knew that my wheelchair would be the best for the conference as my body is better able to withstand sitting for extended amounts of time with it because it doesn’t put pressure on my spine, hips, or tailbone. My dilemma was getting to and from my HU’s headquarters to my hotel. While I have no issues wheeling myself around on a tile floor, I struggle outdoors. I spent weeks going back and forth trying to decide which I should take until the real reason for my indecision became apparent. I knew what the answer was, but my past fear of people judging me for using my wheelchair as a walker when I was able to walk was messing with my head.

Getting real

Once I realized what my real fear was it was easy for me to decide on which mobility aid I needed to take. Although I had dealt with and thought that I had overcome the stigma of being a part-time roller, those fears had come back to haunt me. Thankfully I was able to remind myself that it didn’t matter what others thought if I was doing something that was going to help me get through the trip as comfortably as possible. My husband’s words of encouragement were the best. He said, “Trust me honey, there will be much stranger things on the streets of Philadelphia than a woman pushing an empty wheelchair”. And he was right!

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