By KARMAN—Excellence Through Mobility
Why Are Wheelchairs So Important?
Independent mobility may be achieved with a wide variety of mobility-related devices. However, things like prosthetic devices, powered orthotics, exoskeleton wheelchairs, or electric wheelchairs continue to make up the largest portion of assistive devices in use. The US is the largest regional market for the powered and manual mobility market is projected to grow exponentially due to aging baby boomers and increasing longevity.
How Many People Need Wheelchairs in the United States?
According to the most recent US Census data, around 20 percent of the US population has a disability. About 10 percent have a physical disability or a kind of mobility impairment. Well over 3 million Americans use a wheelchair or an electric wheelchair full-time. People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the US. This means there are more wheelchair users than blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and people who identify as LGBTQ+.
The disabled community considers themselves to be figuratively invisible. Many people, government officials, and business owners do not consider them while making important decisions. The lack of care affects their ability to be part of the communities.
People with mobility issues require some kind of device to help them move around. That device could be a walker, a manual wheelchair, a power wheelchair, or an electric wheelchair. Technology has greatly improved. Power chairs can raise a person for easy access to items on shelves. This also helps to have eye-level conversations with people.
Getting Around on a Wheelchair
How Can People Travel Without Wheelchairs in the United States?
Wheelchairs in the United States are available at a wide range of prices that can usually be from one hundred dollars to one thousand. Higher dollar models can often provide a better quality of life for the user, depending on their needs.
If a wheelchair user doesn't own a van, it may limit their transportation options. They would need an accessible taxi, which sadly is in very short supply, even in many major cities in the US. They are non-existent in small towns unless an independent contractor is donating their accessible van.
Public transportation is another method wheelchair users can use. For all practical reasons, the New York subway system is off-limits for wheelchair users. Only a handful of stations have elevators to the platforms, and often those elevators are not working. Many larger cities are doing a great job in providing accessible buses for wheelchair users, but some bus stops do not have safety rolls on nearby pavements.
Depending on their destinations, some wheelchair users would have to spend hours on a bus or exchange buses to travel only a few miles forward because of various route layouts and when wheelchair users can come aboard. Even rail systems offer no accessible transportation options to aid wheelchair users to travel beyond the rail stops. Unfortunately, a majority of the time, it's too hard for wheelchair users to go somewhere, and is just not worth the effort needed.
Wheelchair Users Outside Their Home
Besides transportation, there are many more reasons for the lack of mobility causes. The main one is that entrances to many buildings and businesses are not easily accessible. Many sidewalks are impossible to cross for various reasons, including them being bumpy and uneven. Many wheelchair users live in abject poverty and have no finances to provide them with transportation. Some people who use wheelchairs may have medical conditions that can cause issues when they leave the peace and comfort of their own homes. Illnesses like chronic pain, severe fatigue, and mental disturbances make going out in public tedious. The inaccessibility of public washrooms can be an ordeal.
Not every building has standard-size doors. So, if you are in a wheelchair, you are often at the risk of getting trapped or stuck in one or the other doorway or entrance. This mostly happens in the toilets of public buildings. Even the lavatories made for wheelchair users have quite narrow doors. So, narrow that no wheelchair can pass through easily. And if the door is equipped with spring hinges, then you would require help in passing through.
We hope there will be changes in this special issue that will stimulate continued evolvement. We should work together towards the same overarching goal to help wheelchair users. Actions must be taken to help them become completely independent and highly functional in their devices. They should also be protected from secondary complications associated with wheelchair use, be fully integrated into society, and live active and healthy lifestyles.