Designing for the elderly: The Walking Stick stigma

If you look at the elderly around us, you may notice them using multiple types of mobility aids such as walkers, wheelchairs, and the most beloved, the walking stick. With the myriad of cane designs available for purchase, it takes a lot for one to stand out. The Smart umbrella walking stick however, is designed to blend in. The walking cane disguises itself as an umbrella which is detachable from the walking stick when needed. Its shaft is made from high strength aluminum alloy, with a straight elongated T-shaped handle [Figure 1]. The handle itself contains an adjustable LED light, a built-in MP3 Player-cum-Radio and an autofall alarm. These are essential features for elderly who are living alone as it will be able to light up the walk way while also alerting those around if they have fallen. Its base is capped with a wide, Steel Ferrule Tip for extra strength and durability that allows it to be self-standing [Figure 2]. Additionally, the canopy is made from UV-resistant and water repellent fabric which protects the user from harmful UV rays.

How umbrella canes became popularized in Singapore.

Walkings sticks have been around for centuries and are used in many different cultures for different purposes. In many contexts, it is used as a status symbol, showcasing power and authority (See Canes and walking sticks, History of the walking stick or Antique canes and walking sticks). This however was not a cultural norm in Singapore. Here, the walking cane has become a symbol of incompetency and ailing health as it is mostly used by weaker senior citizens, resulting in the stigma that makes its users feel old and/or disabled. Studies have shown that many elders fear losing their independence, and the walking aid forces them to confront the everyday reality that they are now weaker and therefore becoming more reliant on the people around them.

Thus, many elderly prefer using household objects like umbrellas in place of carrying a prescribed walking stick. “They replace “official” tools with more commonplace items, so that neighbours, families or friends will still think highly of them”. (Lum, 13) However, due to the small base tip of umbrellas, most do not provide adequate support for the elderly to lean on. In order to combat this, the umbrella canes were brought into singapore and slowly became popular amongst the elderly. Resembling the usual un-collapsible outdoor umbrella, it is tipped with a wider rubber ferrule (cap) on the bottom which provides more grip and stability, essentially serving as a more discreet and multi-purpose walking aid. “(My mother) could accept it better because in her mind, she thinks that people think she is using an umbrella and not a walking stick.” (Teing) Showing how the simple solution of designing a wider base for an umbrella could add drastically to its value to the consumer.

Designing to incorporate the needs of the elderly

As Singaporeans have gotten more affluent and the average life span has increased, people are able to invest more in making their lives or the lives of the elderly around them more manageable. There are many efforts made to make our daily living spaces more accessible, such as more ramps being installed, and the increase in size for handicap toilets. (Heng) As quoted by Mr Jeffrey Ho, executive director of DesignSingapore Council, “by 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be 65 years and older - knowing how to design more effectively for the elderly segment becomes more critical”. This shows the increasing importance of the elderly and aging in Singapore during that period. This is further noted through ethnographic studies such as ‘Design for Ageing Gracefully – Rethinking Health & Wellness for the Elderly: Public Services’ and ‘Empathetic Technology for Ageing – Rethinking Health & Wellness for the Elderly: Infocomm Technology Sector’, which were conducted by leading design and health institutions to understand the everyday problems faced by the elderly, and how design can solve these problems.

The creation of smart Umbrella walking sticks

Designers in Singapore noted this cultural stigma towards the walking sticks which led to the introduction of Smart walking sticks. These upgraded walking sticks were designed with the elderly in mind, knowing that many elderly were reluctant to use traditional walking sticks as it signaled them out as weak. Thus multiple Smart walking sticks such as ‘Bond’, the Smart Umbrella Walking Stick by Agegracefully shop were released into the market, with many variations also sold on online shopping platforms. By understanding what the senior community needs and the stigma they face, they were able to help seniors embrace walking aids through something more palatable. The Umbrella Cane thus serves as a symbolic bridge between designers and the elderly community, as often, many of these products are designed with well-intentions for the elderly, without truly understanding their needs. "It seems easy to use and could solve a problem. But while the young welcome it because it feels trendy, older people don't see it as part of their lives," said Mr Jeremy Sun. (Mulchand).


In conclusion, the evolution of the umbrella cane is symbolic of the growing importance of the elderly in this new era. It symbolizes how the elderly have without-thought, used normal umbrellas in replace of traditional walking sticks, resulting in the popularization of actual umbrella-cum-walking sticks. Which led to the notion of designing for and with the elderly in order to understand their wants and needs, leading to the creation of Smart Umbrella Canes that combine new technology with old solutions.