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Toni Talks about PT Today

Working in a Wheelchair

Published September 9, 2014 3:30 PM by Toni Patt

No, I'm not the one using a wheelchair. One of my fellow therapists is. She has chronic knee and ankle problems. It started out as wearing a walking boot, then progressed to a knee brace and either a walker or a wheelchair to get around. She chose the wheelchair.

The rest of us don't know what to think about this. She says her problem is walking across the facility. The distances are so great that walking them makes the pain unbearable. I think part of the appeal is she travels faster via chair than walking. Using the chair has also brought her much attention. At least once a day, I overhear her giving someone an update.

Here's the problem. Walking is part of her job. So is standing and transferring patients. If weight-bearing is so painful that she can't walk on the leg, is she doing her job? This is not a person who did much standing before this happened. Like clockwork all of her patients do the same activities with her sitting next to them.

Here's a bigger question. She is relieving the pain by staying off the leg. What if the pain never subsides? Is she going to continue using the chair indefinitely? Maybe since the constant walking and standing is causing her these problems, she needs to rethink where she's working. There are other settings that require much less walking and standing or where patients are brought to you.

None of the rest of us believes we would be allowed the same luxury. I limped around for 3 days on a sprained ankle, hiding from administration so I wouldn't be sent home. It never occurred to me to grab a wheelchair. I should mention we're entering our second week of wheelchair-based therapy.

I don't know about anyone else, but if I were in the hospital and my therapist came to treat me via wheelchair I'm not sure I would take that person seriously. That person might be an excellent therapist but perceptions matter. Someone rolling around in a wheelchair isn't giving me a good impression.

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Disabilities for workers are tricky situations.  ADA is area protecting the rights of employees who have injuries, either temporary or long term.  You bring up an interesting topic; but I agree with Samantha that the message of the blog appears to be generalized where you intended to be describing your colleague.  Would be interested to hear your thoughts on the general topic of therapists with impairments.  

Lisa Mueller September 14, 2014 6:52 PM

Apparently I wasn't clear in my blog.  I'm am not talking about people in wheelchairs.  Nor am I saying people in wheelchairs are incapable of being physical therapists.  I never make reference to those individuals.  I mention one person who is now using a wheelchair.

I am saying the person I'm talking about is not performing the job duties she was hired to perform.  She has chronic health problems.  Her current position appears to be making her pain worse.  If the only way she can continue in her job is to remain in the wheelchair which makes her unable to perform her duties then she needs to rethink her situation.

Furthermore someone rolling around a facility announcing to fellow employees, physicians and patients that she is using the wheelchair because she can't perform her job makes a bad impression.  It doesn't inspire confidence or create a good first impression when the first words are I'm unable to do my job.  This completely different from a person in a wheelchair who rolls into the room, states I'm your therapist this is what we're going to work on.

If the blog is read in its entirety it is clear that I am talking about one specific situation.  There are no generalized references to individuals in chairs, just references to one specific individual in a chair.  Perhaps Samantha you need to rethink your perceptions.  I never said or implied individuals in wheelchairs can't be therapists. I said one person is not functioning as a therapist.

Your response introduces a completely new topic to the conversation.  Referring to someone as ignorant only weakens your point.  You would have been better served responding in a positive manner pointing out you are acquainted with several therapists who use a wheelchair and are effective at their jobs.  What chip is on your shoulder that you felt the need to over react?  

Toni September 11, 2014 7:43 PM

WOW! and I don't mean a "good" WOW! I was shocked to see a PT wrote this article-actually embarrassed for the PT. The title of the article and the closing of the article are insulting and hurtful to people who are unfortunately physically impaired and are confined to a wheelchair but have worked hard for their therapy degree. I know several-- and they are each AMAZING! Therapists are proud to call them colleagues and friends. This article has nothing to do with "Working in a wheelchair"....The closing comments are incredibly ignorant " my therapist came to treat me via wheelchair I'm not sure I would take that person seriously. That person might be an excellent therapist but perceptions matter. Someone rolling around in a wheelchair isn't giving me a good impression."

So much for being a professional that is educated on the abilities of people with impairments and maximizing their capacities. This article is more of an emotional rant from one employee to another about their opinion that they are lazy. This has nothing to do with physical therapists or being a health care professional. It reads more like a high school diary.  To make inferences about "someone rolling around in a wheelchair" is this or that is completely IGNORANT. You should be embarrassed.

Samantha, PT - DPT, Hospital September 11, 2014 12:07 AM
Asheville NC

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