New Wheels Should Feel Like Comfortable Shoes

In Columns, Life With Laura by Laura Stinson

If, like me, you use a wheelchair on a regular basis, then you know that one of the hardest things to do is upgrade to a new chair.

I’ve had my current chair since my sophomore year in high school, eight years ago. I’ve also had a brand new chair sitting in my room, acting as a catch-all for clothes and junk for about three years. It isn’t something that I’m proud of.

Friends and co-workers without disabilities simply don’t understand the potential trauma that can come with getting a new wheelchair.

For your information, when I’ve gotten new chairs in the past, something has usually happened, which typically involves severe injury to yours truly. Scary, huh?

To most non-disabled individuals, a wheelchair is just another piece of furniture. It’s something one sits in, and that’s about it.

To others it’s a toy to play with temporarily, but that’s another discussion.

Of course, anyone who uses a wheelchair knows that is absolutely not the case. In the past, I’ve tried to come up with a proper analogy to explain the phenomenon of upgrading chairs.

For years, I’ve compared it to a non-disabled individual suddenly being presented with a new pair of legs.

Recently, I’ve come to the realization that that particular comparison just isn’t accurate. After all, the chair isn’t a part of my body.

Getting a new wheelchair is more akin to a pair of shoes. Stay with me, here. Imagine, my ambulatory friends, you wear the same pair of shoes every day, day in and day out.

Be it sneakers or sandals or boots, every day it’s the same pair. Not only that, but you must wear them for the better part of the day. The only time you get to take off these shoes is when you take a shower or go to bed.

For approximately eight hours a day, you are barefoot, but the rest of the day the shoes are on your feet, no matter what.

I forgot to mention that you begin wearing these shoes when they are brand new. At first, wearing them feels a little odd. You have to get used to them. But, after a few days, you barely notice that you’re wearing shoes at all. Over time, the shoes conform to the shape of your feet.

In fact, your feet themselves begin to conform to the shoes. For all intents and purposes, these shoes are on your feet 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Suddenly, after a year or two, you are expected to wear a different pair of shoes. Changing shoes on a daily basis isn’t much, but after wearing the same pair for months on end, it would be quite a shock to your system.

In a new pair of shoes, everything you do would feel different. Every step would seem precarious. You’d almost have to learn to walk all over again.

That is very much the way it feels when a wheelchair user upgrades to a new chair. Everything is suddenly different. Our bodies, which for so long have been accustomed to one situation are suddenly thrust into other.

We must relearn everything. Everything feels different. Every movement must be recalculated. Things that we could once do without thinking now must be considered and carefully practiced.

From an outside point of view, getting a new wheelchair seems pretty easy. For some people it is but not so much for those of us with OI. One false move can lead to a broken bone or worse. It might seem silly to be “afraid” of getting a new chair. But, trust me, silly is one thing it’s definitely not.
Share your new wheelchair experiences with Audacity Magazine. Send us an email to or join the Online Forum. You can also submit questions and comments to Laura Stinson’s columns.