Pre-experience, if you had asked me which of the three would elicit the greatest sympathy from passers by, the most compassion, the strongest urge to get out of the way/give you my seat/help you with that from my fellow New Yorkers, I would have thought wheelchair, then crutches, then cane, in descending order. Turns out I was completely ass-backwards wrong.
The wheelchair, I think, falls in the 'I don't want to even think about how much is wrong with this person and I need to avert my eyes' category: our mortality has its limits, and a person in a wheelchair brings that a little too sharply into relief.
Crutches endeared me even less to those I shared the street with. They suggest skiing accident, or spelunking misadventure, which in turn implicates me as a spoiled rich girl with enough money/time to fritter away on such impracticalities that I probably deserved to get hurt. (I'm just saying.)
The cane, however. The cane has brought out the Florence Nightingale in more people than I ever would have expected. It says I'm clearly not dying, at least not yet, and I'm no longer spoiled rich girl, but somehow now plucky survivor, likely with some degenerative disease (not wrong there) but still getting along on all that pluck (such a good word I wanted to use it again) which is a quality New Yorkers adore, so let me give you my subway seat/carry your groceries/seat you for your dinner reservation before your entire party is here, and so on.
It's proven invaluable in many situations, and even more so if I protest that I'm really fine to stand up, etc (so plucky in the face of such obvious tragedy!) which I usually am anyway... as much as the cane's lingering presence in my life irritated me at first, I'm now starting to wonder if I should keep it around and perhaps pull it out for special occasions that could use a little help, like dinner reservations on a Friday night. (I'm just saying.)