Tuesday, November 19, 2019

“She’s in a wheelchair. How did she just stand up?”

I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user. What does that mean? I need my wheelchair, but I can also walk.

This might be confusing to people who see me and don’t know any ambulatory wheelchair users, and that’s understandable. Let me explain my own personal situation.

I have a progressive neuromuscular disease called Stiff Person Syndrome. This causes an array of symptoms like muscle spasms spanning the entire body, falls, and as you probably guessed, stiffness.

Why might you see me in my wheelchair? I need my wheelchair because my muscle stiffness gives me a strange way of walking, making it difficult, and going any sort of longer distance isn’t possible for me without it. It also prevents falls, should I have a muscle spasm. I can’t stand in one place for very long. For these reasons and more, there are a lot of things I wouldn’t be able to do if my chair weren’t around.

Why might you see me walking? Because I’m lucky enough to have things I can do without my wheelchair. Even if I have an awkward shuffle that people stare at, I’m able to walk into a restaurant. I‘m able to go into a small store if we’re not going to be long. I’m able to get up and take a photo. I‘m able to walk short distances. And when my treatment is working well? I can do even more.

So I’ve explained to you why I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user. But there are so many more reasons why people might need a wheelchair even if they’re not stuck in it.

Maybe it’s a matter of safety. Maybe they have bad lungs and struggle to breathe. Maybe it’s a matter of weakness due to an invisible illness. Maybe it’s a matter of managing chronic pain. Maybe it’s a matter of neurological issues, like balance and coordination.

Many ambulatory wheelchair users are SCARED to get up. They’re scared of being judged, and they’re scared that one day someone will snicker and say, “She’s walking! It’s a miracle!” Because so many people don’t know the long list of reasons that someone might be in a wheelchair.

So I hope this reaches someone who maybe didn’t know why some wheelchair users can walk. All we can do is help educate those who are open to learning! And a big thank you to those who are always willing and wanting to learn.


  1. I occasionally need to use a wheelchair (RA and AS). I hope that your post does drive understanding. I know when I stand up after being in an assist chair it freaks me out even more.

    Thank you for the post.

  2. Know what you mean! Great post!
    That’s why it’s called an “Invisible Illness”!

  3. Yes! I can relate to this so much!!


  4. This is so inspiring!! I didn't know about ambulatory wheelchair users before this blog and now I do.
    Thank you so much


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