Living With Polio

Facing Reality

Grace Young

My most shocking revelation was that I really did have a disability. That didn’t happen for almost forty years after I had polio. At age 46 I started working at Kaiser and my supervisor asked me, “Grace, do you consider yourself disabled?” It was the height of affirmative-action consciousness and he needed to identify minority members of his department. But the question felt like a slap in the face. Why would he ask that? I thought about it and finally said, “I guess I am.”

That wouldn’t be a strange reply if there had been any doubt about it. But I had worn a long leg brace and had used handicapped parking for several years. Yet I never considered myself disabled.

By age 50 I still didn’t use any walking aids (the long leg brace was an “invisible” aid – hidden by long pants). Didn’t even use a cane to get up to the Acropolis in Greece (but had a husband and two daughters pushing and pulling). But after that trip I knew I needed a cane and by the next trip I needed a crutch. Each new layer of equipment made me feel like I had lost something that I could never get back – I could never again pretend to be a “passer.” But the most difficult decision was realizing that I couldn’t continue working unless I used a scooter. The walking, standing, fatigue, increasing weakness – it was all leading to an early retirement that I didn’t want and couldn’t afford.

Here I was an occupational therapist treating people with various physical problems. I had to wonder: a therapist driving a scooter – what would patients think if their therapist looked more disabled than they did? This was going to be a whole different experience but I didn’t have any other options.

With each new piece of equipment, life changed for the better. I had to ask myself why hadn’t I done this before? I am sure that working so hard to fit into an able-bodied world had caused me to go downhill physically much faster that if I had faced the reality that had been staring me in the face for so long. Yes, I had a disability. Yes, I needed equipment. It was the greatest relief to not have to straddle two worlds anymore.

© 2008 Grace R. Young
Courtesy of Diane Young and Sharon Lark

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Assistive Devices