Canes, rollators and wheelchairs — oh my! For many of us with chronic illness, we are faced with the decision about whether or not we should get a mobility aid. Before I got my cane, I was flooded with thoughts about whether or not I was ill or disabled enough to get one, how people would look at me, etc. I buckled down and made the decision, but even today I am still conflicted.
Mobility devices can be life-changing for the better. They lessen the impact of our symptoms and provide a different kind of support many of us need: Canes stabilize us as we walk, wheelchairs help those who struggle to stand for long periods and rollators provide a common ground between the two.
Despite the benefits, growing confidence when using mobility aids doesn’t always come easily — especially when it’s new. We spoke with Ardra Shephard, a prominent figure on social media and in the #BabesWithMobilityAids movement, about how she became more confident with using mobility aids, along with a few other members of The Mighty’s community.
Here’s what they told us:
1. Creating Mobility Aid Representation
Ardra Shephard (@ms_trippingonair), a well-known Canadian blogger, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2001, and the disease has “shaped [her] entire adult life.” Despite the diagnosis, Shephard felt a need to hide the fact that she utilized mobility aids at first. She told The Mighty:
I first started using a cane to get me through long days on a trip to Europe in 2014. I told myself it was temporary, but of course it wasn’t. I hated that first cane. I hid it in all my pictures. I felt like I had to explain my need for extra help to everyone I knew; like I had to apologize or justify it somehow, even though I’d had MS for so many years. My illness was invisible for so long, it’s hard for people to understand the changing nature of MS.
When I started to use a rollator I felt even more self-conscious. Using a rollator didn’t make me feel ugly, exactly, but I felt less pretty, less cool. I definitely felt like people saw me as something pitiable and sad. Something to stare at and feel sorry for.
After going through life afraid to publicly use a mobility aid, Shephard “got tired of feeling like the world had a right to tell [her she] was less-than.” She began looking online for inspiration but had difficulty finding anyone who stylishly and confidently used mobility aids. As a result, she began posting photos of herself with her mobility aids on Instagram — though shyly at first — using the hashtag #BabesWithMobilityAids. She began to feel braver as time went on
“I decided to be the example I was looking for and as people started responding, sharing these images got less scary,” she said. “And now it’s actually fun. Not to mention empowering.”
Shephard’s advice to those seeking confidence is to first find a mobility aid that compliments your style; even decorate and DIY if you can. Next, do some digging online like she did. There are plenty of people on Instagram sharing their own tips and tricks, and it may inspire you.
2. Getting a Service Dog
Mighty community member Cecilia K. explained that at first she struggled with thinking she wasn’t “disabled enough” to use a service dog for mobility assistance and later when she used a wheelchair. Here’s how she became more confident:
I used to feel that I wasn’t disabled enough to deserve a service dog for mobility assistance but then after having her for a while, I realized I was able to be more independent with her instead of having to rely on everyone around me to help me. It also took me a while to accept that I have to use a wheelchair when in crowded places where there’s a lot of walking involved.
3. Using a Wheelchair Like a ‘Queen’
Given there are so many negative stereotypes out there about using a wheelchair, it’s perhaps not surprising finding your confidence can at first be difficult to find. Mighty community member Maneka K. explained how she was able to ditch that negative phrase “wheelchair-bound” from her vocabulary:
Initially, being a young adult with multiple chronic illnesses, I saw it as being wheelchair-bound but soon, I began to see it as being wheelchair-enabled. Because of my wheelchair, I am able to go to places and do the things which I otherwise won’t be able to do. Hence I started to own it and this made me confident, like a beautiful queen sitting on her throne! I realized that life can be beautiful on your feet and on your wheels.
4. Using a Cane and Wheelchair
Mighty community member Emmy M., like many in the chronic illness and disability communities, uses both a cane and a wheelchair depending on where she’s going. To help find confidence in using mobility aids, Emmy said it was recognizing how much freedom they can provide. She said:
It took me a while but I finally decided I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from getting out to enjoy special things I couldn’t make any other way. Sometimes it’s a wheelchair (like when going to a museum) and sometimes it’s a cane. I used to be annoyed that I had to use them after so long of not needing to touch them but now I choose to celebrate the independence and freedoms they give me. This picture was taken at a USWNT game that I’d been looking forward to for months. With all the stadium steps and the rain, my joint pain was definitely difficult but it was worth it!
5. Being Young and Using a Cane
Most stock images of people using mobility aids are often older people, which leaves out a large number of people with conditions who are young and use mobility aids. This is something Mighty community member Amy C. struggled with at first, especially how others might judge her for using a cane. Eventually however, Amy recognized using a cane made her life more comfortable. Amy told The Mighty:
I started using a walking cane at 16 years old due to widespread pain and fatigue, and at first it was difficult for me to comprehend that I, a teenager, needed it. The common cultural ideology states that only old people use them, which is obviously not true.
It took me a while, but basically, I eventually realized that no matter what people thought of me, or how much they stared or what they said, it wouldn’t change the fact that I NEED my walking cane to get through the day. Without it, I become exhausted very quickly and end up in unbeatable pain.
Being a young, overweight person using a walking cane leaves me wide open to criticism from peers and strangers alike. However, I try not to let it bother me.
As with most things, it can take time to develop a level of comfort and confidence when using mobility aids. Just keep in mind that mobility aids are there to support you, and there is nothing wrong with using them if you need them.
What helped you gain confidence while using a mobility aid? Share with us in the comments!