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How to Feel Confident as a Wheelchair User

You may be familiar with the motivational quote “Believe in yourself a little more.” But it’s easier said than done, right? I shared this ‘feel good’ quote on my Instagram account followed by my thoughts and my own experience with a lack of self-belief and low confidence. So in this post, I want to share my experience as well as some tips on how to feel confident as a wheelchair user. ⁣⁣⁣

Emma sitting in her wheelchair against a brick wall. The wall has giant green angel wings spray painted on it by artist Paul Curtis.

⁣⁣⁣Disability and Self-confidence

⁣⁣Thinking back to my school days, I always lacked self-confidence. I first noticed I had low confidence when starting high school. That’s when I had to use my manual wheelchair full-time because I was falling more and struggling to walk unaided.

Going from primary school and being with the same group of classmates for seven years, to then going to high school where you are split up from your friends across multiple different classes with lots of new people from different schools.

It can be daunting for every teenager but when you have a disability it can be more overwhelming. Well in my case, I believe it was.

Not because I was ashamed to be a wheelchair user. I think it was a little bit of insecurity coupled with being young and self-conscious (like most young kids).⁣ ⁣⁣

Oh, don’t get me started on the utter dread I felt whenever I had to roll up to the front of the class for any type of talks in front of everyone.

But I settled in and had a great group of old and new friends who all knew what help I needed and would push me in my manual wheelchair from class to class. They were my security blanket.

Then I went to college, which again was daunting, to say the least. I knew no one. I made the decision to use my power wheelchair full-time so that I didn’t have to rely on anyone to push me. This gave me more independence. But I still lacked confidence.

I made friends at college and things got a little easier.

I remember feeling self-conscious every time I picked a sandwich from the fridge in the college canteen or handing over money to pay for my lunch because I struggled to lift my arms up.

I remember feeling like everyone in the queue behind me was all watching as I struggled. I remember feeling awkward having to ask strangers walking by to press the lift button for me so I could get to my classes.

It got easier the more I did it and I became more confident. Or maybe I just began to care a bit less. But I also think I realised that no one was actually bothered. No one ever acted awkwardly or refused to help when I asked and I’m grateful for that because I know that isn’t always the case.

As the end of my second year at college approached, I began to think about what I wanted to do next. My old ‘self-doubt’ friend reappeared, creeping into my thoughts and planting seeds of doubt.

The head of the department tried numerous times to encourage me to apply to university, but I suffered major self-doubt. I really didn’t believe I’d cope.

Emma sitting in her wheelchair against a brick wall. The wall has giant green angel wings spray painted on it by artist Paul Curtis.

Going to college ten minutes from my house was physically challenging, how on earth would I manage to go to university almost an hour from home every day and keep up with the workload?

I was getting weaker as my condition progressed which made doing certain things more difficult. Who would I get to help me? I didn’t believe it was possible or believe in my abilities at all.

It didn’t help that I’m the most indecisive person ever. And I worried what if the head of the department at college was actually right – they are a professional after all and they wouldn’t encourage someone to apply if they didn’t believe they could manage, would they?

Finally, I applied and I got accepted. I visited the university campus for a familiarisation tour with the disabled student advisor who was a great help. They arranged a note-taker, gave me extra time to complete exams, bought a Molift Quick Raiser hoist (the one I use at home) so I could go to the toilet between classes and provided other support that I needed.

But I wasn’t on my own this time. The biggest help of all was having my sister come along as my PA. She helped with all the physical things I couldn’t do and it was good having someone I knew with me which gave me a confidence boost.

It wasn’t an easy journey and one that I didn’t think I could achieve, but I did. I got my degree.

Low confidence in myself and my abilities has followed me into adulthood to some degree as well.⁣⁣⁣

Fear of not succeeding in life, fear of not achieving goals, fear of rejection, fear of being misunderstood, fear of being different, fear of change and the unknown are likely to be things we can all relate to.⁣⁣⁣ Fear holds us back from believing in ourselves more than anything else.⁣⁣⁣

Over the years I’ve worked on building my confidence and believing in my abilities a little more. ⁣⁣⁣

Heck, it’s difficult at times, but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made and continue to do. It’s a work in progress. ⁣⁣⁣

Emma sitting in her wheelchair against a brick wall. The wall has giant green angel wings spray painted on it by artist Paul Curtis. Emma has her wheelchair turned slightly away from the camera and she is looking off to the side.

Tips for Gaining Confidence as a Wheelchair User

So here are a few things I’ve done throughout the years to improve my confidence and I hope it gives you some tips to help you to feel confident in a wheelchair too.

Meet other disabled people

Whether it’s virtually or in-person (whatever you are most comfortable with), meeting other disabled people is a great way of gaining confidence with your disability. There are lots of different ways you can do this such as going to conferences or annual meetings (for example in my case Muscular Dystrophy conferences) or local/online groups for your disability.

Personally, I’ve joined lots of Muscular Dystrophy and neuromuscular groups on Facebook and met people from all over the world with the same condition (Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy) as me.

Make connections via social media

I know social media often gets a bad rep but it also has many benefits. For example, Instagram has thousands of disabled people sharing their lives, showing how it’s absolutely possible to live positive lives, that disability isn’t a bad word and ultimately breaking down misconceptions people have of disability.

I’ve definitely gained more confidence as a wheelchair user from interacting on Instagram and having my blog over the years. But don’t feel like you have to post photos if you don’t want to – just being part of the disabled online community will hopefully help you gain confidence as a disabled person.

Having the right wheelchair or mobility aid 

This maybe sounds a bit odd, but having the right wheelchair or mobility aid can massively boost your confidence. I remember having a wheelchair that didn’t meet my needs correctly and it impacted my daily life in so many ways. It made doing tasks that I could usually do at work and at home difficult or even impossible.

Having a wheelchair that fits you perfectly and gives the right support should enhance your life which in turn should help you feel confident. I believe the more you see other disabled people posting photos while rocking their mobility aids, the more it makes you feel comfortable being you #DisabledAndProud.  

Find your own style

Finding clothes you like and look good while sitting down can take time. I know I still struggle with that sometimes, but on the whole, I know what to avoid that doesn’t look good on me. But having your own style can really help your confidence. Whether it’s wearing bright colours, accessorising or wearing comfortable clothes, wear what makes you feel good. But don’t stop at clothes, add your own personal touch by customising your wheelchair or mobility aid.

Read more: My Fashion Likes And Dislikes As A Wheelchair User

I hope you have found my experience and tips on how to feel confident in a wheelchair helpful. Please let me know in the comments if low confidence has been something you have struggled with and if you have tips.

You May Also Enjoy

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Meet Emma

Hello I’m Emma. My mission is to show you the possibilities of accessible travel through my travel guides, tips and reviews. I also share personal stories, live event reviews and more.

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6 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience Emma. I can relate to what you’re saying. I always lacked self confidence even before I became disabled (MS). I’m now 68 & still strive to be better & like you put my energy into supporting others. Try to ‘forget’ self is a tool I use. ‘GIVE US THE GIFT TO SEE OURSELVES AS OTHERS SEE US’ comes to mind as I would never have guessed you lack self confidence. Keep up the good work & believe in yourself. I think you’re truly amazing!!xx

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Angie. I’m so glad you found my blog and enjoyed reading this post. It’s great to know that you have found self-confidence and what works for you – I’m so pleased! Thanks again and take care 🙂

  2. I really enjoyed your comments on confidence in a wheelchair. I have been disabled from the early age of 5 with polio.I had to walk with elbow crutches, all the things you went through so did I.I have been in a wheelchair for the last 12yrs.I am now using a smart drive system which is great.I am now 71 and don’t give dam about what people think about the way I get around I have traveled abroad and been to so many places with my partner & carer. Everyday is a Challenge but I won’t give up. To Quote the late Captain Tom,Tomorrow is going to be a good day! Really like reading all your stuff keep up the good work. Mick &Jane.

  3. Useful article! I felt self-conscious when I first starting using a scooter then a powerchair but felt less so when I took the view that I could advocate on behalf of other disabled people who perhaps didn’t feel confident raising issues with the relevant authorities (inaccessible rooms, missing emergency cords etc). I was happy to find out who to speak to and to approach them so rather than not bothering, I was motivated to do it knowing it would benefit other people too. It’s important that disabled people are not so much ‘included’ as acknowledged as being there anyway!

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Alison. I’m so glad you found my blog and enjoyed reading this post. That’s wonderful to read that you are raising awareness of accessibility issues and helping make positive change. Thank you again and take care 🙂

  4. I always lacked self confidence when I tried to go to a mainstream college (I had grown up going to a special school for people with disabilities), I wasn’t given the support I needed and so I ended up leaving. I then went to a residential college for people with disabilities, which I absolutely loved and found so much confidence there!

    Also, what you said about customising your mobility aids. I’ve always been able to choose the colour of my wheelchair before, so I would always choose my favourite colours. This time I wasn’t able to choose because it was a wheelchair that my local wheelchair service already had in stock. But it has a material backrest (which I’ve never had before, they were always firm), so I’ve started a little badge collection on the back of my backrest. There’s only 2 so far, but I plan to add many more!

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