Thursday, 4 May 2023

"I rather abstain from going places than use a cane." Mobility, stigma and design.

People with difficulties walking benefit from mobility aids since they reduce fall risk and increase confidence and autonomy. Yet, many are reluctant to use the equipment due to social pressures and perceived stigma. Despite appreciating the benefits, the independence and control over activities, the negative associations with ageing and physical decline keep people from using mobility aids. 

In addition, the lack of fasionable design - or rather, the stigma added by designing them the way they look, i.e., medical-appearing devices shouting "I need help" - has an enormous impact on the decision not to use them. Some non-device users say that they would be rather dead than using a device. At the same time, a sporty appearance and colourful design make them more acceptable since people "would feel cool" and not "old" using them (Resnik et al., 2009).

On Sunday, the children were going to the park…but just knowing that I had to use the cane.. I said: “No, I will stay home …” When they were there, they were all thinking: “Mom did not come to the park because of the cane …and they even said to me that they had this cart that handicapped people use to get around. We could have gotten in one of them and be riding it …(Device-user, Hispanic woman)

Where do you go from here? There’s not many places you’re gonna go. …That’s the thing that kind of scares you. And then you look at this (the cane), like I said, I’m sure it’s good for you and I’m sure one day I’m going to have to have it. And if I needed it tomorrow for my back, I would use it if I had to because my back really is in pain. But it’s like you’re at the last stage. This is it. There’s no place else to go from here but 6-feet under. (Non-device user, Black woman)

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- Resnik, L, Allen, S., Isenstadt, D., Wasserman, M. & Iezzoni, L. (2009). Perspectives on Use of Mobility Aids in a Diverse Population of Seniors: Implications for Intervention. Disability and Health Journal, 2(2), 77-85.
- photograph by Andy Sweet via