While I vaguely remember having to wear a swimming hat at Primary School, I did not start wearing a swimming hat until I was 18 when I started swimming competitively. After trying the cheap thin and terribly uncomfortable latex ones, I quickly moved to more expensive, thicker and more comfortable silicone ones.
I had always been prone to getting cold quickly in swimming pools and so I found wearing a hat kept me that bit warmer in the pool and afterwards because of mostly dry hair. The hat also made me more easily identifiable, ignoring my lifejacket for one moment, for lifeguards and support staff. This was a device that worked for me and I have always worn one swimming ever since.
The swimming hat is symbolic of a whole range of equipment I have experimented with to make my life easier, more comfortable and more enjoyable. Staying with swimming, I used to get terrible athletes foot until I started wearing latex verruca socks as a matter of course. Both examples are personal to myself and it is for everyone to make the choice of what works for them and when. I do however feel the key is for people to give things a go, at least once, so that can make informed decisions.
The list of small equipment and clothing that has helped me manage my impairments is endless, and includes specialist equipment as well as mainstream equipment used as they were intended or in a completely different way. Believe it or not, I was quite ‘normalised’ when I started University at 18, and it took a sense of courage to do things differently, especially as it was a different era where impairment was not a public issue.
The hardest piece of equipment to feel comfortable using was my helmets, which I have used since 2000 and it is now my iconic trademark like headwear can often be. I wear them in case of falls, like a cycle helmet, although they are often wrongly linked to having learning difficulties. This is an assumption I hope I am slowly combatting.
There are no right or wrong answers to the equipment people find useful, and it is okay to simply want to use things without any real explanation, something the health system often does not afford many people with impairments with professional-led assessments. The equipment we use and the clothing we wear are not only useful to managing our lives, but to some degree, they become part of our identity inwards and on the surface. When we use equipment that works for us, it can also make us feel good about ourselves and our environment.
Wearing a swimming hat made a big difference to my enjoyment of swimming, and gave me the confidence to experiment with other equipment. While people can be better informed about the choices available to them, it is only themselves who can make those choices and have the courage to seek a better way of living in the way they want.