Godless Grad Student

news and reflections from an active atheist and disabled graduate student

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no one ever told me there were “wheelchair” clothes

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When I was in rehabilitation, the faculty would sew loops on my pants to make them easier to pull up and my insurance company bought me various sticks and hoops to help me dress.  Nevertheless, I found getting dressed to be the worst part of the day – flopping around like a fish trying to get pants pulled up just to spend all day tugging a shirt down that won’t stop riding up.  When I was discharged and back home, I often cried over my clothes.  I remember one time I went to the bathroom and spent 45 minutes getting dressed and back into my chair just to have to go again!  Shoes were also a problem.  My feet swell significantly and normal shoes (even wide ones) caused blisters and sores.   There are a lot of challenges to overcome in using a wheelchair but clothing is one of the worst.

I eventually abandoned the sticks, loops, hooks and shoes and went with whatever I could get on – usually this meant casual pull-up pants,  tank tops, and thick socks.  I’ve been through many rounds of buying and returning clothes from various stores since it’s impossible to try on anything in most fitting rooms.  The only “fashion” I managed to find was rather unlikely – Victoria’s Secret makes “Sexy Tops” that also fit very well when seated.  I assume this is just because Victoria’s Secret has perfected the art of cutting fabric to look good in any position; the tight stretch fabrics often keep cloth out of the way of my wheels but I’m hard on my clothes and unfortunately they only last about 50 washes before falling apart.

In my early days of using a wheelchair, I used to think about this a lot.  I even have drawings in a notebook of clothes I thought I should go into business and design – including pants with longer legs and shirts with a little extra fabric in the back to compensate for pants that slide down when getting in and out of the car.  Eventually, though, I resumed my regular life activities and forgot about those drawings; I just got used to all the drawbacks of trying to sit in clothes that were made to stand.

It’s been 8 years since the rehabilitation facility sewed loops on my pants rather than telling me there were clothes specifically designed for individuals who used wheelchairs… clothes I recently discovered.

I stumbled upon clothes for elderly individuals who use wheelchairs while looking for accessible shower solutions for our house; these were great and I ordered a few pairs of pants with zippers on the side!  They are awesome.  I can’t believe it took me 8 years to find something that would make dressing easier.  The downside though is that someone younger has to hunt and peck for more “fashionable” styles among the inventory to avoid looking like they just rolled out of the local nursing home.

After about an hour of searching intensively online for other options, I have found a very limited selection of clothing designed for younger individuals who use wheelchairs.  I’ve ordered a very small number of these too (very expensive!) and they should be here very soon.  I’m really looking forward to trying them on.

In the end though I really have to wonder why I didn’t know about this earlier.  Should I blame the therapists for not telling me? (They had to know, right?)  Should I blame myself for not looking online? (I don’t know how I would have known what to look for?)  Or, should I blame myself or being so attached from the atheist community (and consequently detached from the disabled community) that I am not actively aware of some of the ways disabled individuals live better.  (I did have a very good friend once who was disabled from birth and she too would complain about clothes in the same way I have – implying that she was unaware as well.)  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a complete solution – getting dressed is still a pain in the ass – just ever so slightly less of one.

Written by godlessgradstudent

May 7, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Posted in disability

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