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My day using a stationary walker; uncovering insights through empathic research

I spent a day using a stationary walker to develop empathy with the end user of this assistive device.

Photo of Dawn Feldthouse

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I spent a day using a stationary walker to  develop true empathy with the end user of this assistive device. My other team members used different assistive devices and we consolidated out findings after our day-long exploration. I learned so many things that I wouldn't have even considered if I had not had this experience; my team members felt the same way. 

The insight that stood out most while using a stationary walker was that they can be very painful to use, even when used correctly. After a while, having to lean forward (even slightly) caused strain in my neck and my palms ached from resting on the hard foam handles. Dining out with my cumbersome walker felt embarrassing. Navigating the crowd in the entryway of the restaurant, fitting between tables to get to my seat, and finding a place to rest my walker while we dined were all challenges I had to overcome. I felt badly to be a "bother," or an "inconvenience" to those around me. 

For the most part, people around me were polite and even helpful at times by opening doors or pulling out chairs, etc. However, I did have a few people who grew inpatient with my slow pace. These interactions were stressful and put pressure on me to hurry up or get out of the way. I imagine this would create a dangerous situation for someone who is already unstable on their feet. 

I found this empathic research exercise to be profoundly helpful. I would recommend trying out an assistive device for anyone interested in learning more about the lives of those facing challenges with physical mobility. 


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Dawn!

Thank you for your post. I think it is interesting that the restaurant was not really designed for walkers. I wonder if spaces that are designed for wheelchair users and mothers with pushchairs would be better equipped for people with walkers.

Photo of Dawn Feldthouse

Hi Kate,

I have found that even mothers with strollers have challenges dining out. Thank you for the thoughtful feedback.

Photo of Yan

Hi Dawn, this project is interesting. I like it.

Photo of Dawn Feldthouse

Hi Yan,

Thank you for the feedback.

Photo of Gabriella

These are great insights! I really enjoyed hearing about your experience at the last critique.
Can't wait to see what your team has been working on!

Photo of Dawn Feldthouse

Hi Gabriella,

Thank you for the feedback.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Dawn for sharing! Great empathy activity! Interesting insights about the physical pains associated with using the walker. I can imagine that this might have negative impact on posture over time (and possibly increase risk of falls). The emotional dimension is also key. I thought that it was interesting that rather than shame, you felt like a "bother". I'm sure many older people might have these mixed feelings. The stress also when faced with the impatience of others is noteworthy too and could lead people to quicken their pace, but possibly lose balance too.
The problems you faced when in the social context of the restaurant also unveil how using such a device might limit the opportunities for people using them to go out and be in social contexts. It reminds me of someone telling me about taking her grandmother who had a walker to a restaurant and it turned out badly as her grandmother first had a hard time going to the bathroom and then ended up stuck in the bathroom because of the walker. Another person I know mentioned how going to the restaurant with her mother who uses a walker is complicated and requires two people to be there to help with doors and going through the space. This clearly illuminates the negative impact using such a device has on independence and social life. Thanks again for sharing (PS: feel free to connect your idea with Rodney's empathy exercise by using the "inspired by" feature).

Photo of Dawn Feldthouse

Thank you for the thoughtful feedback, Anne-Laure. I can imagine that people would easily lose their inspiration to go out into the city knowing that they will have to face many potentially stressful obstacles. These obstacles are both physical and emotional.

Photo of An Old Friend

Hi Dawn,
You're definitely right about the inconveniences of a walker. A friend of mine has cerebral palsy so she has to use it, but it can be very difficult. Before I meet her, I have to think twice about:
-Whether the restaurant/coffee shop has stairs or not
-Whether it's in a narrow street or a wide one, because it takes a few minutes to set up the walker and get her out of the car, and if a lot of cars pile up behind us they tend to get impatient
-Whether there's enough space to maneuver between the tables
-The bathroom has enough room

It didn't occur to me that the walker might be physically painful to use, because my friend is about 5 ft tall so the walker is at the perfect height for her, she doesn't have to bend over much. Which makes me wonder - if people were to use walkers, would having them higher up to match their height so that their hands can rest on it at a more natural angle work better?

I have noticed that it takes her considerable arm strength to maneuver the walker.

Photo of Dawn Feldthouse

Thank you for sharing your insights. It is true that it takes considerable strength and stamina to get around with an assistive device. Even as a strong young person, I grew tired quickly (within a half hour) of using the stationary walker to get around in the city.

Photo of Rodney Lobo

Hi Dawn Feldthouse great insights and I love the photo!
In crowded cities like New York, it is very difficult to find space for something that has become a necessity of one's daily life, such as a walker. We have come a long way trying to find out the flaws and discomforts of these devices, and there is a plethora of them!

Photo of Dawn Feldthouse

Thanks, Rodney. I agree, the streets, public transportation, and restaurants in busy cities have not been designed for people with assistive devices.

Photo of Manjunath

Hi Dawn,
I am surprised that people grew impatient with a person using a walker. Did this happen in areas near a metro? Or inside a restaurant?

Photo of Dawn Feldthouse

This happened in the subway station.