Nothing to Wear – Accessorizing Accessibly

For many, dressing everyday takes on additional considerations. Again, I offer only my personal experience, and all of the following is dependent of course, on my physical capabilities for the day, but for this, we will assume that I am having a good day. I also want to acknowledge my gratitude at the fact that I am still able to drive and have the ability to opt for other options aside from my wheelchair. Having these options is something many do not, and I appreciate the fact that I do. I am also grateful that I have the assistive devices that I require, including a scooter. Many are unable to afford the items that would ease their mobility. I am also still able to lift my own walker and wheelchair in and out of the back of my car, this alone makes much of my mobility as it is, possible.

My process requires the answers to several questions,

Where am I going?

Like most, this will dictate several decisions regarding apparel, but not in the usual sense. This next question is actually the more relevant for me..

Have I been there before?

If not, I will usually opt for my walker as it provides the benefit of being more portable than my manual wheelchair, as well as providing an always-available-seat* that my cane(s) do not.

If I have been there I am obviously better able to assess the accessibility and pre-aware of barriers. I will know whether ample seating and short walking distances are involved and perhaps be able to use only my cane(s).

I have found that calling ahead to determine accessibility is useless and usually just serves to complicate the whole process. Either the person on the other end answering will be unaware of what actual accessibility entails, or they will attempt to over-accommodate. One example of over-accommodation was when I called ahead for a mammogram to see if it was possible to sit for the procedure or how long standing would be required. As it was at a hospital, accessibility for wheelchairs is usually pretty good so I also advised I would be using my (preferred method) wheelchair. When I arrived the entire waiting room had been re-designed to accommodate a wheelchair and subsequently re-arranged immediately following my being taken for the appointment, serving mostly to make my wheelchair use a spectacle. I mean a hospital, particularly the radiology department must see its fair-share of patients using wheelchairs. Having now had one, I have used my walker for all subsequent exams and not called ahead.

These are my major decisions regarding accessorizing with assistive devices, but there are additional accessorizing considerations. The easiest of my devices are my canes, but I find that when I use just my cane, people (strangers) frequently ask, “Oh, what happened?” a question I have not been asked when using my walker or chair. Aside from one nurse at the emergency room who remarked “you really need a wheelchair?” when I borrowed a courtesy one from the hospital which was easier than lifting mine from the car. Unsure of how to answer, I simply pulled out my parking pass and said, “I left mine in the car”. The most difficult to use is my manual wheelchair, though it is the easiest for me in terms of comfort, and the difficulties lie only in barriers and inaccessibility, and are unrelated to my disability or manoeuvring of the chair itself. I would prefer to use my chair in almost all situations, but usually it is easier not to. Again, I am blessed I am able to exercise other options, but frustrated by the requirement to do so.

Some other accessorizing accessibly considerations:

Purses. The best option is always a cross-body strap so that my hands are free for other purposes, like walking on (canes, walker, manual chair). A single-shoulder purse usually just slides down the arm. Clutches and handbags are out of the question, unless I am using the walker, where they can be stored in the seat (another advantage of the walker is that it comes with a small amount of built-in storage).

Shoes. Sadly, flats are now the only feasible option. Plus, wearing my stilettos while using a cane or walker looks ridiculous, aside from being quite dangerous. So flats it is. I miss my Pretty Boots, but would miss walking much more and so I happily wear flats.

Eyes. Glasses are my latest assistive device and remembering them and their accessories is proving to be an ongoing process.

Toes / Feet: A long time ago I realized that when I used my assistive devices, people would look at my feet first, and then my face. So I started painting each of my toe-nails a different colour in sandals, or wearing mis-matched socks and quirky shoes, just to have a little fun with people.

Jewlery. If I am using my cane, I cannot wear bracelets, for some reason these tend to get caught and broken by the cane. Being a clutz is part of the issue, but the cane contributes. Rings can be uncomfortable if I am going to be doing a lot of manually wheeling the chair.


*walker use: assuming it is not raining, if raining, a slip-cover or plastic bag is required to keep the seat dry while walking outside. Holding an umbrella while using both hands with the walker provides additional difficulties, and quite frankly, the umbrella hats look a little ridiculous when not on a beach.