Ambulatory Wheelchair Users Exist!

Posted by EmpowHer Stories in Life After Paralysis on February 02, 2023 # EmpowHer Stories

Whenever I go anywhere in public in my wheelchair, people either stare at me or ask me annoying or intrusive questions. When they see me stand up out of my wheelchair, though, some people feel the need to get involved. They want to know, and so they ask, “Why do you need a wheelchair if you can walk?”

I try to ignore it and not let it bother me. After all, I tell myself, when you don’t understand something, curiosity is only natural, right? Well, maybe it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s right to act on your desire to know about somebody else; in fact, it can really hurt to constantly be reminded that you’re different when all you want to do is live your life — just like everyone else does.

So, on behalf of ambulatory wheelchair users everywhere, I’d like to clarify some things.


First, no one is “confined” to a wheelchair. Yes, I have some degree of paralysis, but having paralysis does not automatically mean that someone is incapable of any movement. Some people can move less than others, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get out of their wheelchairs. I don’t know anyone who sleeps in a wheelchair! So please don’t use that expression. Instead, just say the person is “a wheelchair user.”

Second, when you see a wheelchair user stand up and walk, there’s no need to act surprised or like it’s a big deal. One time, for example, I was flying back to Arizona with my power wheelchair. I had to instruct the man who’d be stowing my chair away on how to keep my chair safe during the flight and I decided it would be easier to show him when I was out of my wheelchair. When I got up the man looked at me, bewildered, as if I was walking on water, and he made a comment like, “Wow! Good for you! You can walk!” It was so awkward and made me feel so uncomfortable.

Third, even power wheelchair users are sometimes ambulatory. Many people are unaware that wheelchair users sometimes like to keep multiple chairs at the ready. This can be for many reasons, like wheelchair sports and concerns about fitting a wheelchair in the car, but it goes beyond that. I find that having multiple wheelchairs is extremely beneficial to my life. For example, whenever I go to the mall with my friends, I always have to remind myself that pushing and carrying bags and food could be challenging in a manual wheelchair, which is why I’d bring my power wheelchair since it has hooks and overall causes less strain on my body. But that doesn’t mean I am anymore or less disabled.

I hope that people who read this will understand that paralysis has many different causes and comes in all different shapes and sizes. Whether you have a spinal cord injury and lose complete use of your legs, or you have a hereditary condition that weakens your muscles, there is no one right way to have paralysis.

Maddie is a junior in high school who lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her parents, her dog Molly, and two cats, Simon and Theodore. She is currently looking at colleges and trying to decide among several subjects she might want to pursue, including forensic science, engineering, art, and design. In her spare time, she likes to hang out with friends, watch anime, play video games, participate in adaptive sports, and post blogs and photos to her social media pages related to inclusive design.

Maddie wrote this blog as a part of the Disability EmpowHer Network and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation collaborative blogging program, which uplifts the voices of women and girls with spinal cord disabilities.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.