There’s nothing noble about resisting the tools that will help you.

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Illustration by Brittany England

Welcome to Ask Ardra Anything, an advice column about life with multiple sclerosis from blogger Ardra Shephard. Ardra has lived with MS for 2 decades and is the creator of the award-winning blog Tripping on Air, as well as the hashtag #babeswithmobilityaids. Got a question for Ardra? Reach out on Instagram @ms_trippingonair.

Dear Ardra,

I would love to hear more about using a rollator walker to go further, and when you knew it was time to transition to a rollator.

I’ve dealt with a lot of uncertainty in my own life: not needing a cane, needing a cane, and then needing a rollator when walking my kids to the park. It’s always confusing on what mobility device I need.

Seeing you rock a rollator actually helped me be more comfortable with using one, when I needed to.

— Elizabeth, MS Healthline community member

Great question! There’s no roadmap for entering the confusing world of mobility aids, and so many of us with multiple sclerosis (MS) struggle with this.

No doctor ever told me it was time to start using a mobility aid. Even after I tripped coming down the stairs and fractured my elbow, even after I lost my balance and fell backward off a curb and split open my scalp, I wasn’t advised by a medical professional to start using a mobility aid.

I had to hack this on my own.

I only had negative thoughts when it came to canes, walkers, and wheelchairs — and was hellbent on resisting them.

The silence of those around me did nothing to hinder my hesitation; the subtext being that bringing home a mobility device would be akin to giving up.

Which is nonsense, of course. But, in my experience, the number one barrier to mobility aid use is stigma.

Science backs me up. According to a 2009 study (which unfortunately was limited to seniors), stigma-based resistance to mobility aids is even more pronounced in minority populations.

Additional barriers include lack of guidance, cost of devices, and a preference for stylish design.

Stigma is a mark of shame or disgrace, and it has no business attaching itself to the tools that can help us conserve energy and be safer, more productive, and more independent.

Nonetheless, thanks to generations of flawed messaging around what it means to be disabled, many of us are forced to confront the negative stereotypes associated with mobility aids once we begin to need them.

For some people with MS, progression is severe enough that there’s no choice but to use a mobility aid. For many others, the decision is less obvious.

I used a wheelchair at airports to manage neuro-fatigue before I had any significant problems with gait or balance.

It’s this murky gray area, where it’s possible to get by without a mobility aid that leaves many of us (not to mention the people around us) questioning whether we actually deserve, or are sick enough, to use one — which is really unfortunate.

It’s hard enough dealing with what MS throws at us physically without the need to manage the misguided judgements of others (and ourselves).

Part of accepting mobility aids is grieving what you’ve lost.

Yes, a rollator might be able to help you walk further and faster, but it’s also a physical symbol of how your body has changed. It can be hard to reconcile what you will gain from using a mobility aid when you’re dealing with the damage it represents.

It’s OK to be sad about that. What I don’t want you to feel is embarrassed or ashamed.

If you’re asking yourself if it’s time for a mobility aid (or a mobility aid upgrade), it’s probably time for one.

Here are some tips I recommend for navigating this change in your life:

Seek professional advice

Of course, choosing the right device isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all process. There are many things to consider.

Ask your neurologist or family doctor for a referral to a neuro-physiotherapist or an occupational therapist (OT) who will be able to provide you with qualified, professional answers and recommendations.

Look for inspiration

The key to accepting the mobility aid version of myself was to see people in my age group looking fabulous and living their best lives with their own devices.

As mobility aid users, we need to see ourselves represented so that we can say: “That person looks cool with a mobility aid. Maybe I can too.”

Thanks to social media and the explosion of disability positive hashtags like #babeswithmobilityaids, it’s far easier to find your mobility aid role model now than it was even 5 years ago when I first started using a cane.

Understand the concept of different aids for different days

My own introduction to mobility aids came with a lot of fear. I assumed that once I’d sat my bum in a wheelchair I would never walk again.

It seems obvious now, but I didn’t understand that part-time wheelchair use was an option — not to mention a helpful way to conserve energy.

If you have problems with mobility or fatigue, chances are you may benefit from more than one device.

Just as we use different modes of transportation based on distances and demands (walking, biking, driving, flying), so too might people with disabilities choose to use a cane, rollator, trekking poles, wheelchair, or scooter, depending on the demands of their journey and the state of their health at any given time.

Most days, I use both a cane and a rollator. Understanding what you need is about listening to your body and honoring what will help in the moment, without judgement.

Let your friends and family know you need their support

Friends and family are always asking what they can do to help, and this is one area where their support can go a long way.

Too often, well-meaning loved ones will champion us for pushing ourselves when what we really need is to be encouraged to rest, to pace, and to take breaks when we need them.

There’s nothing noble about resisting the tools that will help you.

I knew I was less tired and could do more when I used a rollator… and yet, I longed to hear someone tell me, “I know this is hard, you’re doing the right thing and I’m proud of you.”

Even badasses need reminding of their bad-assery from time to time.

The decision to start using a mobility aid can be a challenging one.

When we live with invisible illnesses, we constantly have to advocate for ourselves. We can feel like we’re on our own.

While we nudge society toward a different understanding of mobility aids, my wish for those of us who need them is that the biggest feeling we have about them is the freedom to do more, last longer, and enjoy life.

Don’t let some stitches and the sidewalk be the one to tell you it’s time to start using a mobility aid, or to upgrade the one that’s no longer enough.


Alkan Emin

Ardra Shephard is the influential Canadian blogger behind Tripping On Air – the award-winning, irreverent and funny, insider scoop about life with MS. Ardra is a story consultant for television network AMI and has partnered with Shaftesbury Films to develop a scripted series based on her life with MS. Follow Ardra on Facebook, and on Instagram where Yahoo Lifestyle reported that “@ms_trippingonair is the number one chronic illness account to follow.”