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Painfully Ableist: Disability X Fashion

An article on how to style your wheelchair, crutches and hearing aids.

From phones to shapes, almost everything can be customised. That can range from changing colours, adding on stickers, and even astonishing patterns. However, the same cannot exactly be said for disability aids. From personal experience, I was only given the option of two colour choices for my crutches; purple or blue.. For my wheelchair, I thankfully had more control over what I wanted; I wanted red, I got it. I wanted crutches holders; I got it. My wheelchair customisation was all thanks to Whizz-kid’s. Yet, if my memory serves correct, that is all I got. Whizz-kids helped me with my wheelchair, from maintenance to customisation to style. Unfortunately, though, I am too old for this charity now.   

We are able to also customise our glasses, with a wide range of choices and styles Why? Because glasses wearers are not part of the minority. People who need hearing aids, walking sticks or wheelchairs are part of the minority. This, therefore, means that the style choices are limited. You could say that children who need mobility aids have their individuality stifled because of the lack of access to personalised mobility from a young age.

However, with extensive research, I’ve managed to find a couple of places where you can get these things customised. Let’s go look and personalise our stuff!   

Hearing aids: A website called Starkey Custom hearing aids are not as photogenic as they are made to fit around your ear shape to deliver better quality sound. The custom ones fit your ear better but are not hidden away from the common ones you see. They are also easier to wear than normal hearing aids. The custom hearing aids are like the world-leading engineer and Picasso got together. It’s better than those memory foam mattresses or pillows. Starkley provides different styles from Behind-The-Ear to invisible. But that isn’t all. In a world of wireless connections, it may be hard to find hearing aids that allow you to make this invisible connection between your ear and your devices. Resound allows you to take hearing tests and then connect the to your devices, whether they are apple or android. They allow for low energy or declarable Bluetooth hearing aids. For those who have severe hearing loss, they help accommodate This Resound has apps available that which allow you to adjust your hearing aids set endings, and sound setting through remote adjustments. The app also helps manage the symptoms if you have tinnitus. These customisations however all come with a price. The other option is to stick with NHS and their sport with hearing aids. NHS allow for a long-term free loan id hearing aids with free batteries and free repairs. Style choices however are very low.

White cane, the universal symbol for those with visual impairments, tells the world ‘move out the way, please.’ But how about we style that up a bit?

Option one is to DIY it. If you scroll down, you’ll be able to find some advice and instructions on how to do this in the wheelchair section. However, I suggest skipping a few steps. it’ll be costly for one stick. Even with crutches, I suggest skipping a step or two. Which stage you want to skip is up to you.

Another option is going onto websites like Revolution Advantage Graphite Canes – Queen Alexandra College (qac.ac.uk), based in Birmingham. Just browse around till you find your desired piece.

Wheelchair: After my studies, I plan to wheel out of the house and zip towards a DIY store. Grab some pain that will last and match my wheelchair to my crutches. I have heard monocycle stores are good with painting wheelchairs, especially if you want a specific design. I may ditch my DIY plan and just hand it over to a motorcycle shop. The problem is, I won’t be able to leave the house till I have my chair back.

Step 1: Read all of this before you start. Make sure you have disposable gloves and masks) should be easy since we are in a pandemic) to make sure you’re protected. If it is a small project like only one cane or just your crutches, I suggest skipping a step so you don’t waste too much money. Maybe skip the spray putty and wax? I am not an expert. This will be my first time DIYing this too.

Step 2: For DIY on both wheelchair and crutches, you must sand it down first. You can do this with sandpaper found anywhere, Wilkos, home base or even amazon.  Make sure you’re not rough and are just stripping away any bumps or peeled paint. This may take a while, so make sure you have help. Wipe your clean hands all over it, feeling for any lumps or inconsistencies.

Step 3: Some people try to remove paint, but I do not recommend it. If you’re DIYing it, you don’t know what’ll happen. So, step 3 is getting wax and a clean rag to wipe over the entire mobility aid, so it’s ready for the next step.  

Step 4: Ask your paint supplier for the best primer. The prier box will have instructions on how thick to paint the primer, how long to wait between each paint and how many times you need to lay on the primer. Take off any areas you do not want to paint. Make sure it is adequately covered.

Step 5: Use a tack cloth to get rid of any dust on the area you’re about to paint.

Step 6: if there are any scratches that bug you, use spray putty to fill these in. Read the pray putty instructions.

Step 7: Use acrylic aerosol paint and see how the colour reacts to the original colour of your wheelchair/crutch. Spray test on something, so you get used to the can. Read the instructions. You can get a protective clear coat (gloss or matte) over the dried paint. This may be a bit pricey.

Beauty is pain though right? Pain for our bank accounts.

Also, do not wait. If you think you may need any mobility aids, I repeat, DO NOT WAIT. It will worsen the situation, and you’ll only cause yourself pain. We can find a way to style you up.

What else can we from the disabled community personalise? 

If anyone wants me to interview them to be a part of this series, please contact me using my email j.choudhury@hss19.qmul.ac.uk.

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