Normalizing Daily Assistive Device Use Among Seniors

Senior man in a wheelchair laughing

Normalizing the Use of Raised Toilets and Assistive Devices For Seniors

Senior woman holding on to rollator handles

Adaptive technology has come a long way in the past 50 years, and today there are numerous assistive technology devices available to help those who need to use them. Unfortunately, what hasn’t progressed with the same speed is the social stigma associated with using one or more assistive devices. The stigma can be especially difficult for seniors in a transitional stage of life where they can greatly benefit from mobility aids and other helpful devices.

However, when seniors, and those within their social and healthcare circles normalize the use of assistive aids, it can make a world of difference in how seniors are able to successfully navigate daily life.

For instance, assistive devices for walking such as a cane, walker or rollator can make it easier to get out and about.

Common Stigmas About Disabilities

The idea that an able-bodied person who has never needed physical assistance can go on like that forever is ingrained into the social psyche. As people grow older and experience various medical issues, they may suddenly realize that they are not able to physically do some of the things they used to do. Along the way, these seniors may have also viewed any type of disability as a weakness. After all, stigmas always have negative beliefs behind them, and they can be hard to avoid or cope with.

Senior man holding handles on walker

Some of the most common stigmas that may occur when seeing someone use assistive devices include:

Stereotyping. Many people may think something is “wrong” with someone who is using a disability device. This perception can lead to the assumption that a disabled person is helpless at caring for themself or unable to make good decisions.

Condescension. Based upon the previous stereotyping, attitudes may be skewed towards assuming the disabled person needs coddling or lots of protection to get through a typical day.

Social avoidance. Some people are uncomfortable being around those who are seen as disabled. So, when a senior using a walker wants to socialize with friends, it may be that one or more of those long-time friends find reasons to avoid them. Avoidance can also be minor behaviors such as avoiding direct eye contact with the newly disabled person.

Discrimination. The assumption of helplessness can cause some people to discriminate against those with obvious disabilities. Seniors who are used to being sociable, may suddenly realize that they are no longer invited to, or welcome to participate in, certain social gatherings or activities.

Blaming. Even though the disability is not the fault of the senior, some people may irrationally accuse the senior of using their disability to gain favors or special treatment.

Negative Effect of Stigmas

Seniors who have internalized negative stigmas about disabilities may respond by avoiding the use of assistive devices of any kind for as long as possible. For these seniors, feelings of fear, shame and embarrassment can be at the root of their unwillingness to accept that they need help. Instead of making use of the latest technologies, they put a lot of effort into concealing their disability.

Fight Disability Stigmas with Normalization

Organizations and disability activists continue to work hard to fight against negative social stigmas, but individuals can also make a difference. The first, and most important step towards normalization is to accept that adaptive devices for persons with disabilities are simply tools that make it easier to do everyday tasks. Their use does not imply, or prove, anything about a person’s personality, mental, emotional or physical capabilities.

Speak out and express positivity. There is no need to accept what other people assume about what a disability does or doesn’t do. A disability doesn’t define someone as a person, so it’s okay for the disabled to speak up and take ownership of how they wish to be treated by the non-disabled. Let them know disabled people are quite capable of handling their business like every other adult, and they are strong and mentally alert, despite their disability.

Find ways to participate. Sure, those who suddenly find themselves disabled in some way cannot do what they used to do, but they can still make a good effort. If mobility is an issue, find mobility assistance devices that can make it easier to participate in certain activities. Instead of avoidance, show up and be counted. This alerts others that they underestimated the disabled person, which often leads to a change in their negative attitudes.

Senior man in a wheelchair laughing

Tips for Caregivers

Caregivers should make an extra effort to be aware of biases towards the disabled. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Ask before acting. Treat who you are caring for with respect by asking if they need your assistance. Don’t just reach out and begin grabbing them physically. This makes them feel like they’re being treated like helpless children. Instead, allow them to grant permission to touch them, and you can go a step further by asking “how” they want to be aided.

Don’t make decisions for them. Make a point of communicating with them about all aspects of their care. Clear communication makes caring for someone easier on the caregiver and the recipient of that care.

Don’t force them to normalize their disability. If seniors are reluctant to use certain devices, trying to force them only makes them more likely to resist. Instead, accept where they are emotionally and occasionally mention devices that can make their life easier. Let them come to the realization that they need it.

Watch your words. Use positive language when discussing their disability issues with them. Avoid using stigmatizing words that may be hurtful or inappropriate.

Respectful words. Here are words that convey respect. Disabled, disabled person, person with disability, impaired, incapacitated, debilitated, maimed, assistive device user and wheelchair user.

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