Living With Polio

Too Pushy on Suggesting Changes?

Post-Polio Health, Volume 26, Number 3, Summer 2010.

Dr. Rhoda Olkin is a Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Francisco, as well as Executive Director of the Institute on Disability and Health Psychology. She is a polio survivor and single mother of two grown children.

QUESTION: As a group leader I sometimes feel I come across as too “pushy” when suggesting a polio survivor try out an assistive device. How can I get someone who obviously needs to use a new device to try it without appearing to be too pushy?

Response from Rhoda Olkin, PhD:
Sometimes it is easier for someone else to see what a person needs than it is for that person him/herself. But what do you do with that knowledge? Let me tell you how I first went from being a crutch user to a scooter user as a way of introducing how hard this transition can be. I was teaching at a university, and one day I arrived at work to find a scooter parked outside my office. I was told, “Oh, the Dean thought you could use this on campus to get around.”

Well, it seemed churlish to refuse, so I started using the scooter. And lo and behold, I found I went places I hadn’t gone before because they were too far, and I conserved energy. But at first I limited my scooter use to on campus, that is, I was okay with being a “scooter user” in my professional life.

Then I got a scooter for home and began to use it with friends. Suddenly I could go to big box stores, museums, the park – the scooter expanded my world. The last place I used the scooter was with family. That was the harder transition – both for me and for my parents – bringing up lots of feelings in all of us. Our identity shifts when we go from being upright to a seated position; I get that, it’s hard.

But you know the moral of the story. It’s the one every new scooter or wheelchair user can recite: You don’t realize how much you have limited your world until you get wheels and expand it again. Then you feel a sense of freedom that you couldn’t have predicted, and you would never go back again to not having wheels. But how do you impart this moral to someone who is not there yet? I have a few suggestions.

Have a questionnaire for people to fill out and discuss with each other. Ask questions like: Are there stores you don’t go to because they are too big? How long can you stand in line? How active do you envision yourself being in the next five years? Have you fallen in the past six months?

Plan an outing at a place that is easy to get to by scooter, but difficult on foot. Make scooters available for those who don’t usually need them.

Have small group discussions about self-image as a person with a disability and what it means to be a crutch user, or scooter or wheelchair user.

Have timed treasure hunts in the facility where you meet. Have clues spread out in the facility so that walkies have to go all over. Offer scooters for use as needed.

Put wheelies on one side of the room and walkies on the other and have them talk about what is easy and hard about their mode of transportation.

Remember, you can lead the horse to water, but only the horse can make itself drink.

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