Sustaining a spinal cord injury and acquiring a disability can be an eye-opening experience in a myriad of ways. After your injury, you will begin to experience life as someone with a disability, and this can be at times both interesting and frustrating. One thing you will come across is wheelchair stereotypes. One stereotype that exists about wheelchair-users is that they are frail and need to be treated with care.
While this may be true for some people with paralysis – those who have pressure sores or extreme osteoporosis for example – this is not the case for the majority of people with paralysis. If someone is old and has a spinal cord injury, they should be very cautious, but if they are youthful and have a spinal cord injury, their bones are not frail nor will they break easily.
Some people may not experience this stereotype because they aren’t interacting with caregivers or people who need to physically help them regularly. But if you need caregivers regularly (and they will circulate over the years), you will likely run into someone who will be worried "they'll hurt you" while doing your cares. At this moment you will need to persuade them they are wrong in their assumptions, and it may be tricky.
It's kind that people are cautious, but it can be frustrating when after explaining to them that they are incorrect and will not hurt you if they do your cares, but continue to be overly cautious as it you’re a Faberge egg. It can dampen your self-esteem knowing that people think you’re so fragile. “Do I look that disabled?” may cross your mind many a time, and it is not good for the mental health of someone with an SCI as well. We all want to feel strong and empowered no matter who we are.
And while caregivers may be the number one person people with SCI encounter who thinks you are fragile, there are other groups of people frequently think we are fragile as well. Nurses, people who have to transfer us for a living like airport workers (they will frequently think we are fragile because of the training they receive). The last thing any of us want is for anyone who sees us make a wrong assumption about our physical constitution.
No one likes to be judged, and that includes people with spinal cord injuries. Please wait to assume they are fragile before assuming so. Being fragile equates to sickly or weak, which people with SCI are not. There is no standard training for doctors or nurses who care for people with spinal cord injuries in regards to being light or heavy-handed and there are no books anywhere that says they are more fragile or need to be taken care of with special care.
It can be especially frustrating having to prove yourself despite being paralyzed. So many people are overwhelmingly frustrated by this once they become disabled. Being unable to move any muscle in the body doesn’t translate to “I am fragile.” Please handle with care should be your daily mantra instead. People with SCI do not have easily broken bones or are they, fragile humans. We do not easily break. We do not easily break.
Should we strive to be tougher post-injury to blow this stereotype out of the water? Or should we not care if people think we’re fragile? Please share your comments below.