Mobility and Perception: Are the Elderly and Disabled Treated Differently?


Today, we are more likely to applaud a person’s perseverance and will to achieve in spite of the obstacles, than we are to consider a disability to be a sign of weakness. This steadfast resolve, coupled with the wonders of modern technology, has allowed millions of capable people to realize independence, self-sufficiency and opportunity that may have been denied years prior.

But have technological advancements begun outpacing society’s perceptions and acceptance of individuals who rely on tools like mobility assistance devices? Despite the progress that has been made over the decades, what remains to be conquered?

How can we continue to progress?

To help us answer those questions, we’ve asked a group of experts in the field to share their thoughts on this matter of critical importance to society.

Kathy Birkett, Co-Founder of Knowledge Connection, LLC

Kathy is Senior Care Corner’s expert on the lives and care of senior adults, expertise she has gained through over 25 years working with seniors, families and other caregivers in both her professional and personal lives. Kathy has worked with seniors in their homes as well as in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation and hospital settings.

How have you witnessed elderly and disabled individuals treated differently due to their use of mobility assistance technology?

Our older adults who have a disability and are dependent on assistive devices for their safe mobility face the same barrier that younger disabled individuals do—access. Despite governmental mandates of accessibility, many buildings, sidewalks, events and transportation are not easily maneuvered by someone using an assistive mobility device. This inability to get in and out of places where they want to go will limit them from doing all the things they wish to do. This will inevitably lead to a lack of independence.

We also see older adults buying assistive devices intended to improve mobility from a variety of places such as drugstores or mass retailers due to ease of purchase or convenience which are not properly fitted for them. Using a device that is not designed for their use can make them unsafe, just the opposite of what they intended. Getting a device checked by a professional for proper settings and fit is important no matter where they are purchased.

How do you foresee this changing with technological advancements in the field?

Medical advances such as cataract surgery, hearing aid technology and joint replacement improvements have helped many seniors stay independent for longer periods of time. Future improvements in these areas can continue to improve a senior’s ability to age in place.

Mobility devices that are lighter, easier to manipulate in and out of buildings, use more advanced materials that are comfortable and easier to carry with them when traveling will help older adults stay connected in their communities. Technology in the future may increase the potential to replace failed joints with an even better option, robotics may change the face of mobility, and smartphone apps could give more information about accessible friendly areas in the community to make the outing easier for all involved.


Dr. Cathleen V. Carr,  Executive Director of CertifiedCare

Cathleen V. Carr, JD, Msc.D, is the founder and executive director of CertifiedCare. Dr. Carr, an ordained minister, is a national leader in the fight against elder abuse and neglect and a recognized Geriatric Care Specialist and lawyer in the areas of wills, trusts, probate, elder law and elder caregiving. Her extensive background, with over 25 years of experience, covers many specialties including healthcare, law, business and non-profit social action. Her personal caregiving background and professional expertise helped to shape caregiver certification programs with the highest standards in the elder caregiving field.

How have you witnessed elderly and disabled individuals treated differently due to their use of mobility assistance technology?

I have noticed elderly and disabled individuals are perceived as being more in control of their daily well-being; are treated with more dignity due to being less dependent; are perceived as being more intelligent; and are regarded as being more mainstream rather than marginalized.

How do you foresee this changing with technological advancements in the field?

I foresee an increase in positive and constructive ways, if technology is embraced and adapted to by all concerned, meaning the general public as well as members of the healthcare team. There is a danger, though, of the perceived need for less human interaction and too much reliance on technology, and that is not necessarily desirable, in general.

Barbara McVicker, award-winning author and national speaker

Barbara McVicker is an eldercare expert, national speaker, author of three award winning books, and she recently launched her PBS-TV special Stuck in the Middle: caring for Mom and Dad. Barbara provides a lifeline for the Boomer Generation who are stuck in the middle of kids, career, and taking care of aging parents. She has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CNN, NPR, FOX, NBC, and others.

How have you witnessed elderly and disabled individuals treated differently due to their use of mobility assistance technology?

I believe that people who aren’t disabled are very fascinated by the high tech devices available for mobility assistance. Whether you’re talking about people coming back from wars, or those who have lost their mobility due to everything from diabetes to stroke, etc. – I don’t think there’s prejudice today. In fact, I think that people tend to stand back and watch because we’re fascinated that someone who would ordinarily have no mobility can, with technology, do things that some never thought they could do independently.

How do you foresee this changing with technological advancements in the field?

I think it’s going to become more and more extraordinary. We’re on the cusp of understanding so much more about how our brains and muscles communicate with each other. And I think in the near future, people who we would’ve dismissed as thinking they would be bed or wheelchair bound are going to have limitless opportunities in new technology. It’s an exciting time for people who have limited mobility, and people are going to be able to live much more easily on their own.

From my standpoint, one of the biggest problems for elderly and disabled people is isolation. Isolation not only takes quality of life, but it reduces its longevity. With my field, it’s very apparent in the elderly; that if they become isolated, this is what happens to them. All of this technology is going to make is so that these people do not have to be isolated – it will improve their quality of life. I am excited about these changes, and with how rapidly they’re going to be implemented.     John Quinn, 20-year Navy Veteran and disability advocate born with cerebral palsy

John W. Quinn was born in Detroit, Michigan in April 1962 with cerebral palsy. One of eight children, John also had a strong desire to serve his country. So, in spite of his partial paralysis, two different sized feet, and the inability to walk prior to the age of four, John joined the United States Navy in January 1982 specializing in administration. He did it while keeping his condition a complete secret out of a deep desire to wear the uniform of his nation. Throughout his distinguished twenty-year career, he has sailed around the world on aircraft carriers, battleships, destroyers, and is a plank owner (founding member) of SEAL Team THREE. Senior Chief Quinn is the author of Someone Like Me, An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy. John makes his home in Tucson.

How have you witnessed elderly and disabled individuals treated differently due to their use of mobility assistance technology?

We have a society which judges people very quickly. They see someone who stands different, walks different; or has to use a power chair, a breathing device, or a roller, whatever it might be. They automatically think that that person does not have the ability or cannot do the job. And we need to move past that in our society. We need to look past the disability to find ability.

I have several friends that have disabilities which require mobility device. Just seeing them come into a room, you can see the look on peoples’ faces when they come by. It’s like a feeling of sympathy – my friends don’t ask for it, you know? They don’t want sympathy. They want the opportunity to show what they can do. I don’t experience this as much myself since my palsy is relatively mild, but when people notice my mild limp, they come up and ask me, “What’s wrong with you?”

How do you foresee this changing with technological advancements in the field?

Advancements in technology just give people a better opportunity to show off their talents, and to show what they can do. It’s all about giving people the freedom to live the life that they want for themselves. Whether you want independence, the ability to work, and everything else to live a full, productive life. Technology will play a great role in that moving forward.

I’m fortunate to have a mild disability and not have to use assisted mobility. But I think it’s sometimes an issue of pride to not use assisted mobility technology, where somebody might not think they need assistance when it would make their lives easier. Maybe breaking down that barrier and showing people what’s out there would be a big benefit to society.


About Elder Care Advice blog

Get professional elder care giving advice, advocacy, education and tips for those who care for and about the frail elderly at the ElderCareAdvice blog. We are generously sponsored by Most posts are written by Cathleen V. Carr, unless attributed otherwise. We welcome relevant submissions. Submit your article and by-line for publishing consideration (no promises!) to Havi at, our own editor who will ensure submissions are given the best possible treatment and polish before publication, ensuring a professional level of publication. There is a nominal service fee involved ($45). Allow up to 30 days for publishing.
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