Hands Off My Crutches!
Mobility aids should be seen as a blessing for people like us with conditions that can affect our mobility. Surely it’s a no-brainer to leave the house on crutches or a wheelchair if it’s something that can help us go about our lives, right?
Unfortunately, it can often be quite daunting to bring ourselves to leave the house with one because of how some members of society choose to react.
As a man in his 20s living in the UK, for some inexplicable reason leaving the house with crutches gives people free rein to approach me and discuss injuries they've had playing football.
These conversations are always so awkward, especially when I reveal I have an arthritic condition and then have to deal with the standard: "but you're too young for that" replies.
I always feel like these conversations last a lifetime and unfortunately, if I’m using a mobility aid, there’s no chance of being able to run away from these interactions.
Sometimes it can just be a passing comment rather than a full conversation. I remember one person opening a door for me and saying: "hurry up, hop-a-long" and another time a group of strangers agreed to "let the cripple get off the train first."
Luckily I have been called far worse in my life for that to truly affect me but I can fully understand that this would be very upsetting for most people.
Sometimes a verbal interaction isn't enough for some people and they feel the need to take it a step further.
I discovered that drinking alcohol causes people to be completely fascinated by walking aids. Many times I have been sat down in bars minding my business with my crutches resting next to me and asked: "can I have a go on those, mate?"
I have no idea why this is deemed socially acceptable by anyone, but regrettably the first occasion I was asked I gave permission to avoid any awkwardness. I then sat back anxiously and looked on as an intoxicated stranger wobbly paraded around the bar in hysterics. Not only was it incredibly insulting that this person was making light of my situation by regarding something that I desperately needed to walk as his personal plaything but it was also a very distressing experience. I was forced to sit there panicking, knowing that my ability to make it home safely was in their hands and if they were to break it I would be in a terrible situation.
Unfortunately, I have also had my crutches destroyed by drunks falling onto them twice. On both occasions, they ran off without as much of an apology. I was left to slowly wobble home clutching onto a sharp and bent stick for dear life with smashed pieces of the handle stuffed into my pocket.
Why is it seen as ok?
Imagine if people had the same attitude towards blind people and their guide dogs. It is unheard of (or at least I really hope it is) to ask a blind person why they decided to take their dog out or to ask to borrow it to take for a walk. I know this is a pretty extreme example but there are similarities: they are both things we use to carry on living our lives despite our disabilities and both should be treated with respect.
To anyone thinking of harassing someone using a mobility aid
Leave them alone. A mobility aid isn't a conversation starter and nor is it a toy for you to play with. If you see somebody using a mobility aid, the chances are that they already have a lot on their plate and don't need to put up with your interrogation or foolishness.
To put it politely - mind your business.
To anyone worried about going out and using a mobility aid
Don't let the stupidity of other people stop you from doing what benefits you. Sadly I can't promise that you won't experience some of the above-mentioned harassment but you need to put yourself first. If a mobility aid is going to make your life easier - then use one.
Don't make the same mistake as me and let anyone play with your aid. That was certainly the first and last time I allowed that to happen. Stand firm if someone asks this - the stress and anxiety definitely weren't worth avoiding any social awkwardness.
Don't let people's comments get you down. By going out at all you are showing pure bravery that these ignorant people could never dream of having.
Hopefully one day we will live in a society that is more respectful of these things. But until then keep proudly hitting the streets with your walking aid if you need it and be safe in the knowledge that you are doing what is best for you, which is always the most important thing.
How often do you experience flare ups?