Assistive Technology for Life

I bought an adjustable Leki trekking pole 30 years ago while recovering from arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus. Two decades later, I used it in conjunction with bilateral knee replacements. Three years ago, it provided stability before and after back surgery for spinal stenosis and emerging foot drop. Sometime during my last recovery, I left my Leki pole somewhere, and replaced it with a new model that includes a suspension mechanism for flexibility and comfort. I now use it whenever I take a leisurely walk, climb stairs that lack railings, traverse slippery or uneven ground, and navigate airports. I seldom leave home without it.

When it’s with me, someone invariably comments how s/he should use one, too, but doesn’t. Friends with hearing aids or other devices have told me that they often hear the same thing. I don’t get it.

Why would someone risk falling or endure muffled conversations or other inconveniences rather than use an adaptive device that provides stability, supports activity, and promotes independence? 

Excuses, Excuses!

Some people equate adaptive gear with awkwardness or frailty. They remember clunky canes and walkers, rickety wheelchairs, ill-fitting clothing, thick glasses, cumbersome hearing aids, and lots of snoring. Or, they visualize old people at nursing homes, slumped over walkers, drooling, over-medicated, neglected, disoriented, and pitiable. A hearing aid? A cane? For me? You’ve got to be kidding.

Then there are those who remember their earlier lives as jocks, exercise freaks, soccer moms, hockey dads, or sports stand-outs. They’re still patching roofs with decrepit bodies while declaring to worried children that they’re as healthy as horses and getting by just fine. No gear for them either.

Many folks know that they should use an adaptive device, but they don’t. Perhaps they worry about being a burden or standing out in a crowd. Maybe they fear that image-conscious friends will drop them, or that some other equally yucky thing will occur. imageThey are certain that everyone will ask what’s wrong, and then they’ll have to hear silly advice, endure terrible stories of other people’s misfortunes, or fend off compassionate souls who want to help. Those folks inevitably figure that it’s better to leave well enough alone and hope for the best rather than face the discomfort of scrutiny, embarrassment, and concern.

It’s all so darned exasperating…. and unnecessarily short-sighted, as it turns out.

Then and Now

When I was a graduate student, I took a class in rehabilitation psychology that opened my eyes to life. I learned that I was a “TAB,” a temporarily able-bodied person, and I was admonished to understand that any of us could become handicapped at any moment.

imageA mogul ski crash. A bad dive. A car accident. An unseen step. A wobbly ladder. An unsafe roof. A missed signal. Simply being in the wrong place. Anything can produce a handicap, and once you get one, life as you’ve known it is altered forever.

Thirty-plus years ago, options for people with disabilities were limited; many folks inhabited bodies that didn’t work well and lived in a society that didn’t care. The Americans With Disabilites Act has forced an oblivious population to make necessary modifications for purposes of access and equality. The changing times have also fostered a surge in creativity and innovation.

Image-conscious people can now purchase canes with psychedelic, floral, paisley, plaid, or other patterns. Former jocks can strut their stuff with collapsible canes that sport a favorite college’s colors and emblem. Or, you can avoid canes altogether by opting for trekking poles that fit any height. Collapsible walkers in bright colors are equipped with baskets that hold gear and seats that enable tired bodies to relax. Wheelchairs are now compact and motorized. The options are endless.

People who can’t walk are able to operate customized vehicles. People whose fingers lack flexibility can purchase attractive clothing with Velcro closures. Contact lenses are now available for people who need bifocals.image  Hearing aids are so small that some people don’t notice that their companion is wearing one. CPAPs enable people to feel rested the next day.

New homes and buildings are now regularly outfitted with adaptive door handles, wider halls, barrier-free bathrooms, navigable ramps, and other innovations for people with disabilities. Independent living complexes are increasingly adding amenities that enable residents to remain in their own apartments, with additional supports and services as needed.


Still, stigma persists. Many of us who have no business ignoring our aches and pains continue to do so. Most of the time we’re lucky, and we spend happy years in mindless bliss. Eventually, though, some of us will sustain broken hips and limbs from sudden falls, or cause accidents due to missed cues. Once in a while, our injuries will become fatal, and we will exit this life long before we should.

Does it still make sense not to use an adaptive device if you need one?

I sure hope not.


14 thoughts on “Assistive Technology for Life”

  1. This is a great article with some great encouragement. It is certainly important to fight this stigma! My Grandfather has started relying heavily on a walker and a cane and it is helping him immensely. For a long time my Grandparents were against anything that signified “being old.” Perhaps this is in part because our society does not respect and look up to the elderly as much as they should. If growing old and starting to rely more on the help of others and useful equipment was instead seen as a sign of a wise individual who knows how to navigate the world despite set-backs, perhaps more people would be willing to use adaptive equipment. It’s a great thing that you are working to reverse this stigma as that would certainly make the world a better place. Love your domain name by the way.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, support, and feedback, Christina. I hope that other readers will see the wisdom of using adaptive gear. Truth of the matter is that we all use adaptive gear all the time and don’t even think about it! I’ll have examples under other headings. I hope you’ll come back and visit from time to time. Carol

  2. This looks like a really upbeat site. Baby boomers are not what they used to be. I find the older I get, the older old IS. I have a trekking pole for hiking but mine isn’t as cool as the one you show. I’m now encouraged to spiff mine up.
    Since I’m one of those gray hairs, I look forward to more articles.

    1. Thanks for writing, Debbi. I’m intending to keep it upbeat and educational. I sure agree with you on age. The ceiling just keeps getting higher! I hope you’ll check back along the way! Carol

  3. Fantastic! Clearly you have found an important, needed niche Doc Carol! Now tell me? Do you plan on targeting all five senses? I am a fan no matter the path you choose to tread…

    1. Guess you’ll have to keep reading to see how the site develops! Glad to have you in my corner. Thanks for commenting, Mar

  4. Hi Carol,
    I am also from the midwest. I am from Indiana. I think your website is a good niche. The baby boomers are getting older. I am included in that group. As we get older we will need more devices to help with our daily lives. The placement of electrical outlets was interesting. As our group ages changes may need to be made for those who have to resort to the wheelchair.

    1. That’s a really good oberervation about outlets, Joyce. I’ve seen some changes in location of light switches in handicap-accessible hotel rooms, which I sometimes like to use (ease of showering). I assume that there will be more changes as we boomers age. I’m glad that you like my site so far. Thanks so much for commenting! Carol

  5. Hi Carol
    This is a great article. I enjoyed reading it and you certainly know how baby boomers and seniors think.
    I can relate to the excuses as I had to use a Walker or Walking Stick for a while following a serious illness in 2014. I recovered and don’t have the need now but at the time I felt it was a stigma to have to use such equipment. Also, I experienced being excluded from conversation, or certainly overlooked, when I was with a family member. People would talk to the family about what they thought rather than speak directly to me. It was so annoying and I believe that is one reason why older people hang on and cope the best they can with disability. Anything, rather than lose independence!

    1. Wow, Valerie! I had completely overlooked the invisibility problem. You nailed it, though! Basic fact is that most people are simply uncomfortable with disability of any sort, even if it’s temporary. Their discomfort then extends to the equipment, which means that the person using the equipment is simply ignored. I may tackle that in another post… Thanks for writing, Valerie.

  6. Hi Carol;

    I think it’s entrenched in human nature to be stubborn. Set in our ways. Complacent.
    Also our pride shield is thrown up to protect ourselves in our defensive little shells.
    It may be most ironic in the case of mobility challenge to say that pride definitely goeth before a fall(!)
    So thank you for trying to help us to see the light…
    It is the perspective of experience that you bring, that is going to help foolish and short-sighted attitudes!

    What an engaging blog you have, Carol…fresh, and so well laid out for my weary eyes;)

    Thank you,

    1. Thanks so much for your comment and support, Terry. Despite the aches and pains of aging, the journey, and the ideas that come from it, sure is fun! Best to you with your site. Carol

  7. What a refreshing article on the subject! I have older friends who have adapted and re-adapted to a “self-image adjustment” as they have had to acquire a cane and then a walker…yet they also loved the mobility they regained once the devices became part of their lives.
    I had never heard of the term “TAB” until I read it here today. Yet where I work we have patients in their 30’s and 40’s who had never thought of wearing a back brace to do house cleaning or furniture moving with.
    The doc here has to convince them that it isn’t over-the-top pampering to do so, and it doesn’t mean they’re weak. It’s something to make life easier, and prevent real injury.
    Yes, the stigma is really still there, isn’t it?

    1. Stigma sure is still alive and, unfortunately, still kicking! My realization of other people’s stigma really hit home for me when I needed to use my device at work. Perhaps the doctor will provoke more compliance by using the TAB explanation. It sure hit me between the eyes when I heard it! Thanks so much for commenting, Dee. Best to you on bringing our shared perspectives to light.

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