Awesome Humans 31 Aug
Why I refer to myself as a "walking quadriplegic"
By Sarah Wise
This is part 2 of Sarah Wise's story. To read her journey from being paralysed to walking again, click here.
My name is Sarah Wise, and I refer to myself as a “walking quadriplegic” because I am a quadriplegic, and I walk.
People scoff, “oh, you’re not a quadriplegic!” People have a presumption about what a person with quadriplegia looks like - paralysed, unable to move their arms and legs, using a motorised wheelchair, with a carer close by.
But a quadriplegic can also look like me. Like many things in life, quadriplegia and paraplegia is a spectrum. I call myself a ‘walking quad’ to prompt conversations with people that will make them think about their preconceived biases.
Alt text: A selfie of Sarah wearing a black tee with the ocean, boats and shoreline in the background over her left shoulder.
I was diagnosed with quadriplegia after sustaining my spinal cord injury in October 2019. You can read about the beginnings of my journey here.
Quadriplegia results in the partial or total paralysis of all four limbs. A spinal cord injury (SCI) at the cervical level (neck), where paralysis affects all four limbs, from the level of injury and below. It can cause bladder and bowel dysfunction, loss of or changed sensation, chronic pain, neuropathic [nerve] pain, spasms, a weakened breathing system, pressure sores, and more. It is a complex disability, to say the least, and no two spinal cord injuries are the same.
I learnt to walk again after my injury and I am often congratulated for making a full recovery, which can be frustrating because no matter how hard I try or how many hours I put into therapy, I won’t ever fully recover or be the person I was the day before my accident.
Although I can walk, I still deal with all aspects of SCI in some way. Currently, my biggest physical impairment is in my right hand where some of my muscles haven’t ‘returned’. In my opinion, it’s a small price to pay. It made me realise how important our hands are, and how many different types of movements they can do!
Both of my hands have come a long way from being fully paralysed. I have had to re-learn how to do every task. Using cutlery, tying up my hair, writing, typing on the keyboard, picking up objects, using scissors, tying up my shoelaces - the list goes on. Having limited hand dexterity affects everything I do, but I feel like I’ve become a ‘pro’, adapting to my situation and what I have.
Alt text: A front shot of Sarah standing on her own, relearning to walk during a rehabilitation session & with a smile on her face.
Life has become a whole lot easier with the adaptive technology that is available to us now. I am so grateful for the progress of technology! There have been many small advancements that are hugely beneficial, like ‘swipe texting’ which I even learnt to use with my nose when my hands were too sore and changing from squeeze bottles, to pump bottles.
My favourite product I have found is EveryHuman’s Billy Footwear. It fits with me both functionally and fashionably. Its adaptability is discreet, I don’t have to compromise my style. It fits my needs and makes my life easier. It’s a win-win.
I believe product design that puts disability first, makes it universally easier for all.
Disability affects 1 in 6 Australians. Disability doesn’t have one ‘look’. I am proud to be disabled and to be challenging what disability looks like.