And then the doctor said...

"I think we need to see about getting you a wheelchair."

When you hear this news for the first time, it is not good news! The news is usually something we thought we would never hear.

Most all of us are conditioned to think of using a wheelchair in negative terms. First, we must deal with our natural reluctance to change. Then we have to deal with feelings of shock, frustration and loss. Some may have to deal with concerns about health and rehabilitation too. And.. there's the effect of years of sterotypical thinking about wheelchairs and what they symbolize.

People begin using wheelchairs for many different reasons. Sometimes its a sudden change or an accident that takes away the ability to walk. Other times it is a gradually increasing need for help in getting around. Regardless, it is a big change.

Change affects all of us differently. When change affects the way we do the everyday things in our lives--the things like fixing a meal or taking out the trash or visiting places around the neighborhood--it is hard to deal with. When we can't do things the way we have always done them, it creates a lot of feelings. Anger and frustration develop. Sadness can take over. Confusion and despair can make things seem pretty hopeless. The feelings of loss of control can be the worst part. Dealing with feelings is an important part of any major change in life. The inability to walk or to walk in a way that doen't leave us exhausted is a very real loss and the feelings are real.

Talking with others who have been through the same experience can sometimes be very helpful. Peer support groups and networks of positive people can help a person sort out their thoughts and feelings during this time of adjustment. Some counselors have experience in this area and can be very helpful when a person is working through feelings about loss of mobility.

Accepting the reality of using a wheelchair doesn't mean "giving up." It means "getting on!" Getting on with life and finding new ways of doing things. Its better to try to get back to doing some of your previous activities. Acceptance opens the door to developing a larger self-concept--a self-concept that takes all of the positive things about yourself and incorporates them into a new way of moving around in the world. A new self-concept takes some time to develop but keeping a positive outlook and connecting with positive and supportive, "can-do" people helps the process move along.

One of the positive outcomes of acceptance is "adaptation." Adapting means finding another way to do things. It's partly being creative about solving problems and and partly being insistant about getting back to the things that are important to you. That way the old you gets included in your new way of moving around in the world. Sometimes "adaptive thinking" involve making changes in your everyday environment. You might need to make:

  • Changes in how you do certain tasks or activities... or
  • Changes in the "tools" you use to do them... or
  • Changes in the features of the places where you do your familiar and important tasks and activities.

When you can learn to think "adaptively" you are using the best parts of human nature--resilience and creativity! The pleasure and the enjoyment of doing familiar activities and the satisfaction of returning to valued roles returns. Because WheelchairNet strongly believes in adaptation and in finding new ways to do things, you will find this philosophy underlying many parts of this community. Our emphasis will be on sharing and encouraging and brainstorming about ways to do those things in life that are very important to personal happiness. You can consult the Community Living section and find lots of adaptive ideas.

Maybe you would like to read an on-line primer about wheelchairs and scooters. Maybe you would like to join a discussion group with other new wheelchair users. The New User Discussion is a place where you can exchange e-mail with someone who is dealing with the same issues that you are. You can also link to our pages on resources for adapting your lifestyle if you are interested in seeming more about thinking adaptively. As a new wheelchair user there are probably a lot of new words in your life. If you get curious, don't forget to use our glossary to get started on your new vocabulary.

It is probably important as a new user to use professional advice from people who know you and who are involved in your rehabilitation planning. Becoming an educated consumer will only help you be a better partner in planning your care, selecting equipment and setting goals for your self. WheelchairNet is here to support the process; not replace it! You might want to review our statement on this matter just to be clear.

Back to Getting Started.

Last Updated: 3-2-2006

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No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WheelchairNet and the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology.


Please note: This information is provided a archival information from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheeled Mobility from 1993 to 2002.

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