Why People with Multiple Sclerosis Resist Getting a Wheelchair

Vicki Health Guide
  • Plain and simple: Walking beyond our body's ability too often spells injury. We must get over an initial hesitation and turn to new ideas for safer and convenient mobility.

    Losing the ability to walk is one of the most feared symptoms of MSers, both newly diagnosed and those who have lived with it for a while. Somehow a picture of themselves in a wheelchair is most often the perceived future. Actually, up to 40% of MSers use a wheelchair, and not all of the 40% use wheelchairs full time.  Still, it seems to be an alarming prospect.

    What is so frightening about a wheelchair? Many people who are newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis quickly learn that their disease is invisible. No one even knows they are living with a chronic condition unless they choose to tell. Although walking aids are an indication that something is wrong, wheelchairs clearly say disability.

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    For similar reasons, walking aids are resisted. A cane, often the first walking aid, is considered to be embarrassing. However, many people begin using a cane after they realize they are wobbling and swaying, reaching for walls to maintain balance, or worse, falling. A cane helps maintain that balance. It seems the embarrassment
    of carrying a cane outweighs the embarrassment and risk of falling.

    Walking aids do so much more than simply help with walking. There was a time when I used a cane and I was just out of the grocery store, waiting for my groceries to be placed in the car. I turned to open the driver's door and fell directly on my face. For the next month or longer my face was black and blue as if I had just survived a major beating. In fact, people often glared at Garry as if he was the culprit who had done this to me. Today, 15 years later, it's still obvious my cheekbone had an accident. It was apparently time for me to move from a cane to a walker.

    After the initial step of using the cane, each new walking aid is resisted. When more steady balancing and help actually standing is needed, people do not want to trade the cane for forearm braces or a walker. These things represent a step closer to that disability highlighted by a wheelchair. How will those people embarrassed by a cane feel when strapping on a robot suit?

    Instead of signaling disability, a wheelchair is often the tool for re-establishing mobility. When I was moving so slowly and leaning on walls, I finally gave up and bought a walker and then an electric scooter. The first day I went out with my new Amigo scooter, I wondered why I had not done that sooner. It did not feel as if I had given up; rather, I felt almost free. Suddenly I could move at will and realized I had regained mobility, and that was such a significant accomplishment.

    Mobility is a key to living in this wide world. When MS is in our lives, mobility is threatened and sometimes lost. Winston Churchill said "never, never, never, never give up." That certainly applies to our own personal capabilities. As one helping method begins to wane, there is another method to try.


  • Inventors are adding a bit of science fiction into the future of walking aids. Walking may not be an option, but mobility is not lost. There are many adaptive devices being improved upon daily. They enhance our mobility and allow us to participate fully in life.

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    Even if you choose to stay in or near your house, do it with mobility. If you choose to go beyond your house, city, or even country,
    you can do it with public transportation or privately owned cars and vans, opening the world to those of us with mobility problems. Very little is totally beyond our grasp.

    The National MS Society says "MS stops people from moving. We exist to make sure it doesn't." Mobility aids help us move toward "A World Free of MS." Aids are essential to our safety as we continue down that path.

Published On: November 24, 2009