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In Tennessee last week, video captured a 10-year-old boy who uses a wheelchair standing up for the national anthem. It was a story that went viral for what appeared to be a miraculous feat (or, as Fox News put it, for his determination “to show his patriotism”).
However, YouTuber and advocate Annie Segarra tweeted that she “clenche[d] to the ground in rage” over the story, adding the hashtag #AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist.
So, no, it wasn’t a rarity that someone using a wheelchair could stand or walk. Some people are ambulatory wheelchair users, Segarra’s tweet asserted, and while they might have the ability to move without their wheelchair, they may need other mobility aids while doing so, such as a cane, and may not be able to move for long periods of time without their chair.
Yes, this is a normal thing. Some users can walk a bit until pain. The wheelchair provides freedom. Sure some people can't walk whatsoever and those people use wheelchairs for access. They're not "bound". Language is important with how people look at disabled people. https://t.co/E0IsGs59SN— James Rath (@JamesRath) August 12, 2018
New Headline: Kid who uses a wheelchair does what a lot of people who use wheelchairs do but everyone makes a big deal about because of a lack of basic understanding of disabilities & disability aids.— Lady Vertical | twitch.tv/ladyvertical (@LadyVertical) August 12, 2018
Hours later, Segarra tweeted about her own experience as an ambulatory wheelchair user, writing that she uses her wheelchair for “anything longer than a minute or so,” so regardless of using her cane, her ability to walk is “on a timer.” She uses her wheelchair for symptoms of Ehlers–Danlos syndrome—a group of connective tissue disorders—including chronic pain, dysautonomia, and injury prevention and aid.
Segarra also encouraged other ambulatory wheelchair users to share their stories with the same hashtag in order to raise awareness for the diversity within disabilities—their limited abilities don’t negate physical disability, and that those with physical disabilities may not always require a wheelchair or powerchair.
#AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist— Annie Segarra (@annieelainey) August 12, 2018
Some wheelchair users can walk.
I need my wheelchair for anything longer than a minute or so, my ability to walk is on a timer with/without my cane.
I use a wheelchair for symptoms of #EDS; chronic pain, injury prevention/aid, & dysautonomia. pic.twitter.com/skdsrPdDOV
I welcome folks to use #AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist to post their stories, photos, & videos to show that there are so many diverse disabilities that require the use of a wheelchair/powerchair, and that ability to move, walk, dance, run, etc does not negate physical disability.— Annie Segarra (@annieelainey) August 13, 2018
Some people said they only need their wheelchairs for longer periods of standing and walking, such as in lines at airports and grocery stores, and use other mobility aids around the house or while moving other shorter distances.
#AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist— Luci Camorani (@lucimacaroni) August 13, 2018
I can walk and run. So why am I in a wheelchair?
I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and dysautonomia. When I stand up, my blood pressure plummets and I frequently faint. Being in a wheelchair allows me to go out for longer and faint less. pic.twitter.com/ubfJB2MlfG
I use my wheelchair and crutches interchangeablely, my chair allows me to travel long distances I can't handle anymore on a frequent basis, I use a cane at home as needed, When I have low pain I use my crutches more, either way you'll deal. #AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist pic.twitter.com/M8IXV3zejU— André J. Daughtry ♿♒ (@Tripping_Crutch) August 13, 2018
It doesn’t mean I don’t need it ... pic on the left: speaker pic on the right: running for office... yes it makes my life easier and no it’s not a gimmick...#AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist .... pic.twitter.com/iFGFb2JO2m— Keith Jones (@dasoultoucha) August 13, 2018
I only use wheelchairs at the airport and grocery stores. My cane can get me pretty far if I am walking, but I cannot stand still without extreme lower back and hip pain. So checkout lines, TSA lines ... these are the times I need to use a chair. https://t.co/4qFb2BGhoS— AK Anderson (@A_K_Anderson) August 12, 2018
And some use their wheelchair daily, though they can walk short distances with the use of another mobility device.
#AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist— Leah Rachel (@_LeahRachel) August 13, 2018
I have EDS, POTS & I’m Legally Blind. I have over 60 dislocations every day.
I can’t walk much anymore, but I walk around my flat, parent’s house, and other people’s houses.
I’m in my chair whenever I’m out, and have a smart drive to help me. pic.twitter.com/rW1RBIQIJ3
#AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist— Shelby✨ (@shelbydancer123) August 13, 2018
Surprise! I can walk for short periods at a time, it just increases my debilitating symptoms. Not all wheelchair users are paralyzed! I use a wheelchair for chronic joint, muscular, & nerve pain, dysautonomia, and sclerosis of my pelvis and hips pic.twitter.com/x6M6Y1xdNk
#AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist— Gullu Kandrou (@onlyasmile_away) August 13, 2018
Some wheelchair users can walk.
I need my wheelchair for anything longer than 5 minutes, my ability to walk is on a timer due to my unstable hips.
I use a wheelchair for symptoms of #EDS; chronic pain, injury prevention/aid, & dysautonomia pic.twitter.com/ss61kbDaIN
I use my wheelchair every day when I go places outside of our house. I can get around my house with a cane, and walk short distances outside with my cane, stand for short periods of time. I have terrible chronic back pain after three surgeries (two for fusions). https://t.co/zTK8amHFEK— Cynthia ISeeYourHearts McDonald (@mccindy72) August 13, 2018
#AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist— Jay Justice ♿️🇯🇲🏳️🌈 (@thatjayjustice) August 13, 2018
Some wheelchair users walk or stand. Doesn't mean they aren't disabled.
I am permanently disabled and use a cane or a mobility scooter 95% of the time.
I have a chronic illness, severe pain & damage all over my body even though I don't 'look sick' pic.twitter.com/7iFoqx2VhX
This is a great hashtag. I use my wheelchair 90% of the time out of the house. For in the house & places w/ a very short walk, I use my cane. Walking & standing are painful & I can still do it when I need to, but my chair gives me freedom. 💙 #AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist pic.twitter.com/NslUQC68K1— Nikki Jeske! 🌿 (@coyotewitch) August 13, 2018
Others can move for longer periods of time but need a wheelchair or other mobility devices for bigger events, or when they’re experiencing symptoms.
Let's make this a real post #AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist ! I use as wheelchair as needed when I have of trouble breathing and low energy or flare ups of my arthritis or vestibular condition! Otherwise I can walk without it! It's a tool that helps me live a better life! pic.twitter.com/GTw6qmWUmZ— Elsie Tellier (@65PinkRoses) August 13, 2018
#AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist— Azura Rose (@HellcatAzura) August 13, 2018
I use a manual chair in the house when EDS or POTS flair, a mobility scooter outside since I can't push a hospital-style chair on concrete (wheelchairs are expensive and I'm poor), and otherwise use either a cane or a prosthetic knee brace to walk pic.twitter.com/hYevkevwr1
I use a wheelchair for large events like Warped. I use my cane for some shows where I will be standing for 4+ hours. If I'm constantly moving my pain somehow isn't too too bad and I just need to sit every once in a while when I do my photography #AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist https://t.co/FRN59HhQNM— Hana Banana (@zebrafighterxox) August 12, 2018
#AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist I use my wheelchair when I know I’m going to be walking around a lot, for example when I’m in Disney. In my daily life I walk pretty much unassisted, sometimes with a cane. A wheelchair is an aid for me so that I’m not in pain after a long day. pic.twitter.com/v11B3whXjv— Amanda Zarb (@amanda_zarb) August 13, 2018
Segarra wrote that though she’s covered the topic of ambulatory wheelchair users in her work, she felt that seeing everyone “self-advocating for their fluid and diverse disabilities on here is so affirming and I hope we’re that much closer to our existence being known, visible, and respected.”
#AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist— Annie Segarra (@annieelainey) August 13, 2018
Y'all know I've been on this topic long before the hashtag but seeing everyone self-advocating for their fluid & diverse disabilities on here is so affirming and I hope we're that much closer to our existence being known, visible, and respected.
Segarra did not immediately return the Daily Dot’s request for comment.
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.