If a woman walked up to you in the mall and asked, “I’m shopping for shoes today, and wonder what style you recommend?” how would you answer?
Would you look down at your own shoes on your feet, and tell her to go buy them – especially if you’re wearing men’s boots, or flip-flops, or orthopedic shoes?
Of course not. In fact, before providing a recommendation, the logical person would ask, “What do you need the shoes for – work, dress, recreation, comfort?”
How is it, then, that a wheelchair user can look down at his or her wheelchair model and unequivocally recommend it to another wheelchair user without knowing anything about the person? After all, isn’t a wheelchair keyed to every intimate detail of our individual lives, far more than a pair of shoes, from our body types, to our extents of disability, to our environments, to our transportation, to our careers – to literally hundreds of nuances that vary from one individual to the next?
Absolutely. Yet, it’s interesting how quickly wheelchair users whole-heartedly recommend their personal wheelchair models to another user without knowing anything about the person, especially online. In fact, the chances are that you may have seen posts on the WheelchairJunkie.com message board and others, where someone simply posts, “I’m a mother of 3 needing a powerchair. What kind should I get?” And, people reply by unquestionably advising purchasing the specific powerchairs that they use as individuals.
Now, certainly people are striving to be entirely helpful in their replies, and that’s appreciated by all. Nevertheless, as with recommending shoes, there has to be a more complete, accurate way to help others toward selecting appropriate mobility technology, other than simply pointing to your own wheelchair, right?
And, there is – where the key to more helpful and accurate assistance toward others is in addressing wheelchairs not only as objects, but also within the context of how wheelchairs apply to our individual lives. In this way, a wheelchair isn’t viewed as a universal product, but as highly-tailored device, where each wheelchair model must be assessed in parallel with a user’s very individual needs.
Based on my career roles, people seek my advice daily on wheelchair purchases, and the first conscious effort I make when working with any consumer is to initially rule out my own 33 years of wheelchair use – the considerations have to be entirely about the person’s mobility, not mine. Toward my ultimate suggestions, I want to know about one’s physical condition, past, present, and future; I want to know about one’s living environments; I want to know one’s forms of transportation; I want to know what recreations one enjoys; and, I want to know as much as I can learn about someone within a conversation. As a whole, I want to know the context of ones mobility – the roles it must serve in one’s life – before I mention any category or model of wheelchair for consideration. It’s only by knowing such personal aspects of one’s life that I can truly surmise which type and configuration of wheelchair might meet their needs.
Surely, not every user is an expert on wheelchairs, and may not know what’s available beyond his or her own wheelchair model, not knowing of any others to recommend. However, explaining how one’s wheelchair model serves one’s own needs, through very specific examples, also proves far more helpful to other users than simply recommending a wheelchair because it’s the only one personally known – that is, rather than saying, “I have XYZ wheelchair, and it’s great,” try sharing, “I have XYZ wheelchair, which fits really well in my small apartment and on the bus,” which is constructive feedback.
The next time someone asks you for advice on wheelchair selection, I encourage you to avoid immediately looking toward your own wheelchair, but instead look forward to the person your striving to help, and make an effort to understand their fullest needs before suggesting a particular product, then apply your own experience and knowledge of wheelchair models to suggest which might work best for the individual’s needs. After all, we each of us walk in different shoes – and wheelchairs.