Many people struggle to walk unassisted so others won’t stare, feel sorry for them, or think less of them. They may accept a cane but resist a walker or crutches. And some will stay at home rather than be seen in a scooter or wheelchair. In other words, they dread being stigmatized or labeled.
However, mobility devices can allow people to go places without having to rely on others. They can keep pace with everyone else, “walk” side-by-side, and share laughter and conversation.
Family members, friends, and co-workers ultimately benefit too. They no longer find themselves worrying about the person with MS getting hurt in a fall or becoming too tired to stand.
It’s worth remembering that mobility devices often help people look less disabled. A person struggling to walk may look like a drunk. A person using a cane looks purposeful, and may even give off an aura of confidence. A person sitting comfortably in a power chair arrives looking (and feeling) in control.
But people who use aids do sometimes have the experience of being treated as though they’re invisible. This example is all too common: A man in a wheelchair and his wife go into a restaurant to have dinner. The server turns to the wife and asks what her husband would like to have.
In an uncomfortable situation like this it’s important to remember that the server is probably not being intentionally unkind or insensitive. Most people have little understanding of disability, and simply do not know what is and is not appropriate. To handle this, the wife might say, “I don’t really know what he would like, but I’m sure he’ll tell you.” Or, the husband might respond, “I’ll be happy to give you my order.” In other words, people often need to be shown how to respond.