“So young and using a mobility-aid?” Such a remark can really hurt, much like receiving a chronic illness diagnosis. Especially as age does not determine the onset or severity of an illness. Seeing young people with mobility aids at school should be just as normal as seeing elders using walkers while grocery shopping.
Carly Pistawka, a 23-years-old disabled university student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, shared her story of living with chronic pain while still dedicating herself to her studies and graduating with honors. With the support of her family and friends, as well as her Rollz, she can navigate campus and achieve her goals.
For some individuals, mobility aids are a necessary tool, much like a pair of glasses. However, the societal perception and stigma surrounding the use of a rollator is not comparable to that of wearing glasses. The misconception that these tools are solely for old people is a significant reason why young adults may feel ashamed of their condition. Carly experienced this as well.
“I started using a cane when I had just turned 17, for my hip pain, which started a few months prior. I remember being embarrassed initially, and how people would comment on it often.”
“I also had a generic rollator, before I got my Rollz Motion Perfomance. I was pretty ashamed to use it – my grandma had the exact same one!”
Addressing the needs of young people when it comes to mobility aids means assisting them in feeling comfortable and confident enough to use the tools necessary to maintain their daily activities such as attending school, socializing with friends, and participating in events. It is important that practicality and aesthetic appeal go hand in hand.
“I became much more confident in my rollator use. I find my Rollz to be beautiful and stylish, it feels more like ‘me’!”
Having a chronic illness at a young age can require significant adjustments and longer timelines for achieving milestones, but goals can still be accomplished. The type and quality of support received is a crucial factor in determining a successful outcome, regardless of any delays.
“In my twelfth-grade year, I got to the point where I was bedridden and required surgery. I ended up having to postpone my final exams for high school, and subsequently needed to take a year off for my health prior to attending university.”
“I have definitely had times when I felt close to giving up – managing university and commuting with disability is difficult and can be exhausting. I am extremely grateful for my close friends, family and faculty for supporting me during these times.”
The help of a mobility aid
In addition to supporting mobility and allowing individuals to reach their desired destinations, certain types of mobility aids can also serve a variety of other purposes. These may include providing a comfortable seating option, allowing the carry of goods such as school materials and promoting a sense of independence.
“I purchased a mobility aid for school for several reasons. With my pain, I find it very difficult to sit, especially for the entire duration of classes. I started to experience anxiety when going to classes because, often, the chairs were plastic and very uncomfortable. I am now able to always have a comfortable place to sit if I need it – whether it be between my classes or waiting for the bus. The Rollz Motion Performance has been fantastic as it can easily carry everything I need for the school day, rather than having to use a backpack. My laptop and books fit in the pouch and everything extra fits in the below-seat basket. I even have the cup holder for my tea/coffee!”
“I find that, because of my rollator, I can attend school more often. To know that I have constant support and a place to sit, relieves a significant amount of anxiety and physical fatigue.”
Room for improvement
Carly acknowledges that the university has made significant efforts to improve accessibility for individuals who use mobility aids. However, there are still areas where additional progress could be made.
“For the most part, the pathways in the campus are clear and easy to navigate with a rollator. Sometimes I do struggle trying to find an elevator or an entrance with automatic doors. I remember in one of the buildings where I had a class, there was no working elevator, which was extremely frustrating. Having these problems can lead to a lot of anxiety, so I urge that universities continue to make their campuses more accessible.”
Carly also believes that offering online attendance options for classes can be a beneficial solution for disabled students: “With the pandemic in 2020, the introduction to online/remote courses was extremely helpful to me. Because of this, I am continuing to advocate for universities to offer hybrid or online courses to better accommodate those with disabilities.”
Having the support of loved ones can make a great difference in achieving goals when dealing with mobility limitations and Carly is very grateful to have people in her life who are willing to help when it’s needed.
“My family and friends keep me going – my mom and my partner especially. My mom does everything down to picking me up from school on a bad day, to loading my Rollz in the car for me. Her and my partner have been there for everything – whether it be surgery recovery, to being a shoulder to cry on. They continue to remind me of my strength, but also that it is understandable to feel frustrated or upset sometimes, I would not be where I am today without their support. At school, my friends have done everything from walking me to carrying my rollator up the stairs when there is no elevator.”
To look forward to
Dealing with illness can be mentally and emotionally draining, which is why setting and working towards goals, even small ones such as planning a vacation, can have a deeply nurturing effect on one’s overall well-being and spirit.
“Even though I have days when I don’t want to get out of bed, or cannot function from the pain, I try to use that as fuel for pushing forward. Next to trying out new medications, tests and therapies, I also try to have something to look forward to – currently me and my boyfriend are planning to go on a trip to Europe for a few months, after I graduate in April. While travelling with disability gives me anxiety, a comforting thought is knowing I will be taking my Rollz with me. And of course, planning the trip and imagining all the amazing places I will visit gives me a reason to push through the negative emotions.”