Too Much to Ask

by Lori A. Wood

Today is a day like no other. Today is a day that could make or break your future with the company that you’ve worked so hard for. You’re about to make a presentation to the company’s president, the success of which might land you the cavernous corner office, luxurious company car, and enormous paychecks that you’ve dreamed about since you were an intern, burning the boss’s coffee and fighting with paper-jammed copiers.


Blinking furiously and trying to clear your mind of those distant memories, you focus once more on the here and now. First impressions are everything, you tell yourself in the mirror that morning. Once you’ve applied the last splashes of color to your eyes, cheeks and lips, and pulled your hair into an I-mean-business ‘do that looks even better on you than it did on the model in the hairdresser’s magazine, you take one last look at your outfit. You found the perfect simple black suit at your favorite department store. Lucky for you, a punk-rocker salesgirl (complete with purple hair and a nose ring) wrote the wrong price on the tag, so you got a jaw-dropping discount. Functional but feminine, it cleverly disguises the unsightly bulge that has found a home on your hips, thanks to several flirty encounters with the new, gorgeous guy who works behind the counter of your local ice-cream shop. To top it off, you managed to find the one pair of pantyhose in the universe that didn’t run five seconds after you got it out of the package.

I look good, you admit to yourself, nodding approvingly. But, as you give your pants one final glance to check for last-minute wrinkles, you notice something that seems out of place, that doesn’t fit in with your otherwise meticulous appearance: you’re wearing little girl shoes!

How can this be? you wonder, racing to your closet to find footwear that’s more appropriate for the occasion at hand. To your horror, you discover that your shoe collection has been overtaken by tiny, sparkly shoes, brightly emblazoned with cartoon characters that you outgrew your preference for at least two decades earlier…

Usually, this is the part of the dream that wakes an able-bodied woman from a dead sleep, screaming and covered with sweat. “Thank goodness! It was only a dream,” she whispers, lulled back to sleep by the reassuring sight of the flats, pumps and heels that stand, like posted guards, before the sacred space that is her closet.

For me, such an unsettling vision is too often a reality. I’m a disabled woman who cannot walk. Consequently, my shoe size lies between a three-and-a-half and four, depending on the shoe.  This largely limits my choices in footwear to kids’ styles. At twenty-eight years of age, I cannot tell you how humiliating it is to search for the perfect shoe in a sea of pink, frilly shoes that are the rage among little girls everywhere! I shudder at the thought of character-themed shoes, covered from toe to heel with princesses, bears, or hearts that are made to look like a child’s drawing in crayon. What self-respecting woman would be caught dead wearing such shoes to the office, or to a social function? Certainly none that I know.

Of course, if I’m being honest, I do have another option: heavy, box-like orthopedic shoes. Unappealing as they are, with their gaudy buckles, numerous straps, and impossibly thick heels, I can admit to their efficiency as a therapeutic tool. They provide excellent ankle support, and are often fit into leg braces to assist people in walking. That said, why must they be so ugly? Why are disabled women often expected to sacrifice stylish, attractive shoes for those that meet their physical needs? Why aren’t there shoes on the market that successfully serve both purposes? 

Companies like Silvert’s, an online adaptive clothing store, located at http://www.silverts.com, try valiantly to address this issue. Still, the majority of the shoe collection on the aforementioned website consists of modified bedroom slippers and Velcro-laden shoes that seem hopelessly outdated in comparison to today’s styles.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of comfy slippers and shoes that are easy to put on and take off, and I’m grateful that there are companies who are willing to take these matters into consideration, when so many others are not. But, as accommodating as these kinds of footwear are, they are hardly aesthetically pleasing.

There is a far more important aspect to this topic than vanity, though. Many members of the disabled community must contend with pressure sores. I have had to deal with these many times in my life. When I was little, I wore orthopedic shoes with leg braces to school. The shoes were awful. They were metal inside, so my feet were given almost no cushioning, and I endured my first battle with pressure sores, located on my heels. By the time I sought medical advice, they were so inflamed that I couldn’t wear shoes for weeks.  I can still remember how shocked I was when the doctor told me that the sores were about the size of a dime.

That’s it? I thought. For as much pain as I was in, I was expecting them to be these huge, gaping craters in my heels, and, in a weird way, I was disappointed that they weren’t.

By the time I was thirteen, I had stopped wearing the orthopedic shoes, and my feet healed completely. I was overjoyed to think that such intolerable discomfort was a thing of the past.

Fourteen years later, in 2001, I bought my third electric wheelchair, and immediately felt something I hadn’t since childhood—foot pain. Dismayed, I fitted the new chair’s footrests with thick foam padding from a fabric store. Held in place by Velcro straps, they seemed to be an excellent solution to my foot problems. Within three months, though, the foam started to bottom out in the spot where my heel rested, and my pain returned. Additionally, the adhesive on the Velcro straps eventually lost its effectiveness, making it considerably more difficult to keep the foam in its proper place. Since it shifted so often, my heel was often not resting on any padding at all.

Since I sit in a wheelchair for twelve to thirteen hours a day, I often put pressure on my heels, without even realizing it. With my feet resting in the same place for such a long time, it’s hard to find relief from the burning, throbbing agony that the sores inflict upon me. In addition to the fabric store padding, I’ve tried many different things to ease my pain, only to be disappointed, time and time again.

Bedroom slippers are a sensible option to relieve foot pain—in theory, at least. They’re soft, warm and provide a fair amount of cushioning. But there are two problems with relying on them to ease foot discomfort. First, their inviting warmth can be positively stifling after wearing them for a few hours, leaving a person with no other option than to take them off. This, in turn, leaves the affected heel vulnerable to the very pressure that a person is trying to avoid. Also, if a person’s feet have a tendency to slip off the footrests, slippers can come off easily, exposing the heel to further, unnecessary pressure. I’ve even tried layering my feet with multiple dimensions of cushioning: putting on slipper-socks, then stuffing the slippers with heel pads and store-bought shoe supports. Like the others before it, this strategy has proved useless.

On several occasions, I’ve attempted to go completely barefoot, since wearing any kind of footwear only exacerbates the problem. Despite my varied efforts, however, I have been in almost constant pain for over two years.

One of the most prevalent tips for healing these sores is to remove the afflicted area from the cause of the pressure. While well-intentioned, I’m not sure that this advice is entirely practical. If the source of the pressure is found in a wheelchair’s footrests, how is someone who can’t walk supposed to avoid them? If a person has problems with this vitally important part of their chairs, what should he or she do? Letting his or her feet simply dangle, unsupported, can a dangerous proposition, leading to decreased circulation and swelling in the feet.

Exercise is another suggested solution that never worked well for me. While it has been said that the frequent changes in position that comprise a workout will help to alleviate pressure on sensitive areas, I have found the opposite to be true. As part of my workout routine, I raise up from my chair to ease into a semi-standing position. However, within an hour of having done so, the pain in my heels became excruciating, and would persist for two or three days afterward.

While I’m not na├»ve enough to expect to see a line of Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos that cater to customers with disabilities anytime soon, the short-sightedness of shoe designers is still frustrating. Meanwhile, as we wait for the big names in shoes to come to their senses, the situation we face isn’t entirely hopeless.

Puma Driving Shoes are a great option and can be found at the following link: http://store.nordstrom.com/product/product.asp?StyleID=2816034&Search=True&SearchType=keywordsearch&keyword=puma. Designed for comfort, they have no seams inside, and feature easy-to-use Velcro straps. They come in a variety of colors, and have a cushion sole that really grips to your footrest, so your feet don’t fall off. They are priced at $89.95.

At www.nordstrom.com, they have separate categories for shoes, including: juniors, comfort and flats. For further convenience, the categories are broken down into several sub-categories, to ensure that customers can find the perfect shoe to meet their needs.  For example, at the following link: http://store.nordstrom.com/product/product.asp?styleid=2829916&category=2376778~2372808~2372904~2375549&PrevStyleID=2826587&NextStyleID=2819194, they showcase Dyeables ‘Finale’ Ballet Slippers for $29.95.

For nights on the town, Totes-Isotoner slippers are a viable (and inexpensive) alternative to dress shoes. Though they are slippers, they manage not to look like them. At http://www.totes-isotoner.com/category/isotoner.do, shoppers can browse a selection of slippers, including ballerina slippers, some for as little as ten dollars! Much subtler than the bulkier bedroom slippers on the market, they’re an excellent solution to the shoe dilemma! In my experience, though, they should only be worn for a few hours at a time, as this will help prevent excessive heel pressure and help lessen the likelihood that the slipper could unexpectedly slide off the foot.

Bell-Horn, an orthopedic company in Indiana, offers hope, as well. They feature Anti-Shox® Dress Heel Cups, found on the Internet at http://www.bell-horn.com/DIABETIC_MAIN/Shoes/1308.html. Recommended for casual footwear, these could be useful to alleviate heel pain. For more information, call (317) 228-1144.

For pre-existing foot pain, Footsmart.com offers Heel Huggers™. Available at http://www.footsmart.com/Product.aspx?ProductId=79 for $19.95 each, they use sewn-in icy gel packs to soothe sore feet, so they might be helpful.

As a disabled woman, I just want cute shoes that will ease the agony of my feet. Maybe, someday, such a request won’t be too much to ask.

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