I walk to most places now.
It’s strange to not have to think about curb cuts, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, and making sure that the nurse at my doctor’s office moves everything out of the way so I can back my powerchair into the room without bashing into things.
It’s strange to have to hunt around for chairs to sit down in. Because just because I can walk, doesn’t mean I can stand indefinitely. In fact, standing has always been harder than walking. My cane helps signal to people that if I need to sit down, I need to sit down fast.
I am sure that the way I look to people has changed, but I have not yet been able to work out how. In the past, I remember how people’s estimation of my cognitive abilities went up once I was in a powerchair full-time. Because apparently I have some quality of my appearance that usually makes people underestimate me cognitively, but if I’m in a wheelchair, they can blame that quality on a physical impairment. Now that I’m out of the chair, I wonder if I’ll be getting treated like a two-year-old more often again. Or if enough has changed, that that won’t happen either.
I may be walking places, but my identity has not caught up with the idea of being a walking person. I still imagine that I’m in a wheelchair. Of course, I’m not fully out of the wheelchair, either. I still use wheelchairs for distances I can’t manage yet. But when I do walk, I still somehow imagine that I’m in a wheelchair, and I’m always surprised to find that I’m not. Everything looks different when I walk, it’s all viewed from a different angle in more ways than one. I’m still not used to it.
It’s not just a matter of identity, it’s a matter of perspective. Literally the angles are different. The places I can go are different. The expectations I get from others are different, and not always what you’d expect.
And I feel like I haven’t quite caught up yet.
I also feel like very little about me has actually changed, and yet other people see a huge change because the categories of full time power chair user and person who walks with a cane and may sometimes use a manual wheelchair are so different in their minds. The equipment you use becomes how they see you, even other disabled people do this.