Image shows Tim and his friends

Sticking it to disability by Tim Ferguson

Speaking from experience, I can tell you that a physical disability can be a pain. But the devices available to help disabled people (like me) get around can have surprising benefits.

I’m a person with MS. Neurologists have no idea what causes MS, but they’re paid well because they know what they don’t know better than anyone else.

Fatigue and falls

Though the symptoms of MS vary for everyone, MS can cause mobility challenges. And, over time, there is a chance those challenges will worsen. Or not. The uncertainty is one of the things neurologists are certain of.

My MS relapses and remits, comes and goes, stands me up then trips me over. I resisted declaring my condition to the world for many years. It was nobody’s business and I was living a busy life.

Pride or stupidity, or both, caused me to endure fatigue and falls. Finally, I got bored of falling over and realised I needed to ‘out’ myself as someone with a disability.

The benefits of sticks

The first symbol of my ‘outing’ was a walking stick. I cringed as I bought one but I soon realised that it’s good for more than just balance and strength. With a walking stick, you can go any place and be offered a seat when you get there.

Your stick can help break the ice in the awkward chair-stealing situation. When you walk with a stick, the world looks you in the eye but remains wary. Will you tip over unexpectedly, or use it as a weapon?

One night I was stopped on the street by an angry drunk man. “You’re too young to need a walking stick,” he shouted. “Are you an idiot?”

I replied, “You’re picking a fight in a dark laneway with a tall man who wields a large stick. Who’s the idiot?”

He backed away. Sticks have their benefits.

Walkers and wheelchairs

The next vehicle in my MS progression was a walker, a four-wheeled affair affectionately known as a Zimmer frame. This clunky contraption is like a Volvo – boxy but safe.

People with walkers get instant respect from others, probably due to the apparent level of difficulty in every move.

The next level of disability aid is a wheelchair. I fought against getting one until a bad spell gave me no choice. I should have bought it twenty years ago.

If you have a disability getting help isn’t surrender – it’s common sense. And an important note: a wheelchair does not diminish IQ points and you don’t have to shout.

The downsides of wheeling around

Our society is better equipped to handle wheelchairs than it was in the 1990s. Ramps and lifts are more common (though not universal) and disabled parking spaces are handy.

There are downsides, however: pedestrians and shoppers don’t stop for wheelchairs. It doesn’t occur to them that if a collision happens, they’ll come off second best due to their higher centre of gravity and lack of four stabilising wheels.

Another drawback of being in a wheelchair is instant invisibility. Even close friends will walk straight past their wheelie pals. If you’re ever keen to avoid notice, a wheelchair is the place to hide.

Mobility devices

The one key thing I know for sure, and I didn’t need a neurologist to help me discover this, is that mobility devices are symbols of randomly harsh life can be. If you’re resisting using a mobility device, play it safe and give it a go.

And if you’re able-bodied, spare a thought and keep an eye open for people moving with wands, walkers and wheels. Live life to the full because those contraptions await you.

Stick happens.

Act accordingly. Tim Ferguson is co-writer and co-director of the feature film Spin Out. Tim will be performing with his musical comedy group, The Doug Anthony All Stars (DAAS), at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2017. First published in Eureka Street, Australia