Tuesday, 30 January 2018

What Walking Stick Users Want You to Know

Penguins with walking sticks and top hats. Title overlaid.
When you have a hidden illness, you get used to people not realising that there's anything wrong, so when you are out and about, there can be a lot of tutting and general impatience. Recently though, I've thrown vanity to the wind and started using a stick sometimes. I found it on a camping website and it didn't look too much like a walking stick, more like a hiking aid, so I thought I would give it a try and it's bliss. It means I can walk for longer with less pain, or go out when I wouldn't normally be able to. I have been surprised by people's reactions though. Most are considerate, but some seem oblivious to the limitations of the stick user. 

In association with Bathing Solutions

There is a belief that using a stick can be a positive thing, particularly when you have a hidden illness, because it alerts people to the fact you might not be as mobile, or as agile, when it comes to leaping out of the way, as other people. Some people's reactions aren't very helpful, though, and it turns out I am not the only one who has felt this way when faced with a busy supermarket, or high street. After talking to some fellow stick-using friends, we thought it would be nice to mention some of the difficulties we have and how to help, if you encounter one of us on your travels. I don't think many people intend to make things worse, or be rude, it's just a case of not knowing what you can and can't do with a stick. Here's our impromptu guide to what stick users would like people to know. 

You Only Have One Free Hand!

"Cashiers trying to give me change, receipt and bag all at the same time." - It really helps if you can  hand items over separately to allow time to put things away. Also, if you are behind someone in the queue, try to be patient, it won't take long. 

Brakes Can Be Tricky!

"People stopping dead in front of me after overtaking." - This one is a bit like being cut up in a car when you're learning. It's understandable to want to get on with your day, but when someone is concentrating on negotiating people and other obstacles, they might trip over you if you find you've overtaken without thinking about whether you can actually go anywhere!

Reverse Isn't Always an Option!

"When someone expects you to move. I am on a stick so I refuse to move out of the way." - I don't expect preferential treatment, but I can't walk backwards, so, even if you walk right up to me, really aggressively, it's probably just going to get awkward. 

A Minute's Pause can Make Someone's Day

"Drivers ...when crossing the road even on a zebra ..they can be impatient ..." - This one is fairly self-explanatory. It really makes me smile when someone stops to let me cross at the crossing, but sometimes they speed up when they see me approaching, which is a bit mean just to save a couple of minutes!

A Walking Aid Does Not Affect Any Other Senses

"I don't know if its just me this happens too but I find people shout when talking to me as if the stick somehow tells them I'm deaf!!" - I haven't personally experienced this one, and I hope I never do, my sarcasm filter might overload! 

Tricky Manoeuvres Take Longer

"I've only just started using my stick too & my bug bear is when an army of pram pushers walking side by side on the street, expecting me to move to the side to let them pass, I'm not a crab!!" - Groups of people can be a little insensitive to others, as they are often involved in conversation, but sideways movements are trickier for stick users and take a little while to manoeuvre. 

A Little Help Goes a Long Way...

"Since using my stick I have apparently become invisible. Shopping is a bloomin nightmare now. I'm always dropping my stick, then have to hobble round to find someone to pick it up for me." - Please don't be afraid to offer to help someone, if you want to. There is always an argument for not wanting to be patronising, but most people will appreciate it, if it's obvious it would make things easier. 

As Does a Little Patience!

"I was given crutches yesterday at the hospital. walking around getting used to them and constantly had people moaning and sighing at me :( made me so self conscious! I’d never do that to anyone else!" - When you use a walking aid, you are already self-conscious and aware of being an inconvenience, it doesn't help when people make it obvious they agree! 

Too Many Questions aren't Always Welcome

"Using some kind of aid seems to make people of an older generation think that they have the right to come up to me and ask what is wrong with me even though they are perfect strangers and we could be in the middle of the supermarket or high street!" - I hate this one. Sometimes it comes from a place of concern, and you can usually tell if it's a worried friend, or just a nosy parker. If you are going to ask, ask yourself why you are asking. If it's just to satisfy your curiosity, maybe it would be better to give the other person a chance to volunteer the information. Not everyone likes to talk about their illness or injury, particularly when it's often. 

I Can't Believe I Even Have to Say This One...

"A while ago when I just used one stick I was on a rare night out when an idiot thought it was funny to take my stick off me and run around the pub. Leaving me standing there leaning against a wall for support unable to move." - Words fail me... Obviously, don't do that. 

A Positive Note

"I have to say that I haven't had any negativity at all. In fact, people/strangers have been very very helpful..more than before I used a stick." - And this is how it should be, and usually is. All it takes is a little consideration and you can really make a difference to someone's day. 

When someone suffers from an illness, particularly one that is not obvious, it can change many aspects of their life. A recent project, by Bathing Solutions, looks to find out what impact disability has on how we view our identities. I'll leave the last word to Umber who talks about identity and what it means to her, as a young disabled person.



  1. I think a lot of people think of those in a wheelchair have mobility problems and don't recognise others that walk with a stick for example. I think this post will make others think and open their eyes to the problems those with a stick can have

  2. It sad people think they can have an opinion or jest at someone else's expense. They probably have a hard enough time coming to terms using one as it is :-(

  3. I'm using a stick at the moment - with a hiking logo so I hope it's a bit cooler! I agree with the hands one; it's already been a problem at tills and being offered hands to shake. The thing I find is that just because I am standing, people leave me standing and don't realise I'm in pain and need to sit after a short time.

  4. It's unbelievable how inconsiderate some people are. I always step sideways for someone who needs space and I always stop to let people cross the road where I can. It's just manners x

  5. My friend walks with a stick and it always astounds me that her son loads her up with all his bags!!

  6. I found this very informative. Many of us are so inconsiderate.

  7. I have a lot of these issues when pushing a pushchair! A little bit of thoughtfulness can make a huge difference to those that have mobility restrictions

  8. I had to use one before my back operation and after and it felt very strange out in public. People were nice enough but they looked at me completely differently

  9. Everyone is in such a rush and absorbed in their own agenda! My father-in-law in wheelchair bound and its amazing how inconsiderate people can be - parking up the back of their mobility vehicle so they can't get the wheel chair back in again is a regular occurrence!

  10. Great post Lucy. And one myself and daughter with different disabilites both understand too well. I've had people shout at me, 'are you blind?' because I got in the way of them, because I am blind in one eye and have very low vision in the other, and I'm really torn between saying yes, almost, or just keeping quiet because they are so aggresive. And because my daughter can stand up briefly, if we take her out in her wheelchair and she stand up for a minute to look at something in a shop, people often treat her as if she's 'faking' - err no, being able to walk 1 or 2 steps doesn't mean you don't need a wheelchair!
    I'm just waiting for my white stick to arrive and wondering if it will help me or be just another thing to struggle with.
    Thank you for the post, and much love to you.


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