Rolling Without Limits

Your mobility may be limited. Your voice, boundless.

Bob Dole Takes a Stand for Ambulatory Wheelchair Users Everywhere
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Bob Dole Takes a Stand for Ambulatory Wheelchair Users Everywhere

George H. W. Bush will be remembered for many things. But for people with disabilities, he’ll likely be remembered for signing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which among other provisions, allowed service dogs to enter businesses that wouldn’t otherwise allow animals.

Former Senate majority leader Bob Dole advocated for that piece of legislation. He also showed up to the late president’s funeral to honor the 43rd president. And he did so in a wheelchair.

Dole wasn’t the only person to show up in a wheelchair. There were plenty of others among the hundreds of people paying their respects to the former president who did much to improve their lives. And fittingly, also present was Sully, the late president’s 2-year-old Labrador retriever and service dog.

However, what seemed to get the most press was something Dole did at the Capitol Rotunda that day that caught everyone by surprise. With the help of an aide, Dole stood and saluted.

Understanding the Meaning of Ambulatory

Ambulatory, within the context of wheelchair users, simply means “limited mobility.” The same way some people use walkers or canes, others use wheelchairs. It doesn’t mean they’re "confined" to their chairs. And it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t need them.

Ambulatory wheelchair users aren’t represented well in the media, which leads to these sorts of misunderstandings. Dole rising to pay tribute wasn’t a miracle. He was simply standing up for something he believes in.

It often comes down to time. Ambulatory wheelchair users, like Annie Segarra, can often stand for a minute or two. But anything longer than that, and they may require the aid of their chairs.

Segarra refers to her ability to walk, as being “on a timer.” She has a cane, but anything longer than a minute, and she’s back in her chair. The problem for Segarra, and many like her, is that the longer she stands, the worse her symptoms become — which means an increase in pain and discomfort.

Segarra suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which the Mayo Clinic defines as “a group of inherited disorders that affect your connective tissues — primarily your skin, joints, and blood vessel walls.” And when she hears the media use words like “miraculous” when describing people like her standing up, she gets a little upset. She also uses the opportunity to educate.

In response to a viral video last August involving a young ambulatory wheelchair user rising for the national anthem, Segarra introduced a new hashtag to the world: #AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist.

The message she wanted to send was that there is great diversity among the disabled. Some are more mobile than others. Each person, including his or her disability, is unique. And they should be treated as such.

Ambulatory Wheelchair Users and Obesity

Discrimination against individuals with disabilities is sadly common, and this negative behavior, particularly in the workforce, has numerous detrimental effects. A 2017 survey found that of the 37 percent of people who reported being affected by bullying at work, 40 percent of those experienced negative health consequences as a result.

It’s the emotional effects of bullying and discrimination that can be most profound. This discrimination also extends to those who are obese, rather than only those who are disabled. However, the two groups are closely linked beyond the shared discrimination they often must deal with.

According to the CDC, the number of obese individuals in the U.S. between 2007 and 2009 rose by 2.4 million people. Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of many conditions and diseases, including high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. And it creates physical limitations, as in limited mobility.

Limited mobility. Isn’t that exactly how we just defined ambulatory wheelchair users? And while obesity can contribute to symptoms, conditions, and diseases that make wheelchairs a necessity for some, perhaps the greater issue is keeping ambulatory wheelchair users who aren’t obese from becoming obese.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is difficult for most people, but for those bound mostly to their chairs, it’s especially challenging. However, limited mobility doesn’t mean you can’t exercise.

There are three types of exercises: cardiovascular exercises, strength-training exercises, and flexibility exercises. All three should be included in your fitness regimen. And you don’t need to have full mobility to do them; you just need motivation.

It only makes sense that ambulatory wheelchair users are more prone to obesity. But what doesn’t make sense is how the masses lump all wheelchair users into one disabled group.

One thing is certain: Awareness is the first step. According to published research, physicians have long linked public education and awareness to disease occurrence.

Promotion and Awareness Are Key

The fact is that many ambulatory wheelchair users only need their chairs when they’re required to stand for long periods of time, like lines at the airport or grocery store. Some consider wheelchairs and crutches as being interchangeable, depending on the distance or time that’s involved. And others, like Dole, have much more difficulty, even when it comes to standing.

Segarra, during her attempts at educating the masses through Twitter, added, “I hope we're that much closer to our existence being known, visible, and respected.” Simply being understood would be a great place to start.

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