A comparison of mobility types, and what wheelchair users really want.
When it comes to personal mobility, there are different ways to approach it.
If your goal is simply to get from place to place regardless of the manner in which you get there, then your mobility is primary a form of transportation. What matters to you is not the journey, but arriving at the destination as quickly and comfortably as possible. Some examples of this type of mobility on a wide scale are public transportation commutes, driving to and from work in the city, airlines, buses, and ferries. On a more individual level, taking elevators, riding escalators, ascending and descending stairs, and walking from place to place in urban environments.
What all of the above examples have in common is that the person's mobility is a means to an end. Passengers don't really care about the manner that they get from Point A to Point B as long as the method is as convenient as possible. The hallmarks of Passenger-Mobility are efficiency, comfort, and convenience.
If you care as much or even more about your experience of mobility than just getting there, then you are seeking Pilot-Mobility. At the far end of the scale, Pilot-Mobility has no destination, it's all about the mobility experience. People who dance in a studio, skateboarders and BMX bikers in a terrain park, gymnasts, acrobats, downhill skiers, and the like. All of these people engage in a tremendous amount of movement, yet they ultimately "go" nowhere. Pilots move because they enjoy how it feels. They want to control their movements and respond to the neurological feedback of their bodies and to the environment. They are constantly seeking to advance their skill set which leads to an even greater degree of mobility. Pilots want to earn their mobility, they don't want it handed to them.
It is also possible to incorporate the joys and benefits of Pilot-Mobility into the practical aspect of going somewhere. Not only do you benefit from getting to your destination, you enjoy the journey too. Some examples of functional Pilot-Mobility are riding a bike or a scooter, longboarding across town, motorcycling, mountain bikers, flying a small airplane and driving sports car.
Pilot-Mobility is not about humanly powering your movement. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. Pilots want to experience their movements in the same way that Travelers want to engage in the varied experience of traveling. Pilots go for walks in the park and in nature, not because they have to, but because they want to.
As a practical matter, nobody is either only a Passenger or a Pilot. There is a huge crossover between the two. Sometimes, people are Passengers, sometimes they are Pilots.
Many times, the determination of whether someone is a Passenger or a Pilot depends upon the mobility options available to him or her. While there are a tremendous amount of mobility options available for Able-Bodied people to be Pilots, there are few for Wheelchair-Users.
Wheelchair Users as Pilots
The general societal thinking is that the majority of Wheelchair-Users are always content to be Passengers. After all, pushing Wheelchair-Users from place to place is commonly seen. Most, if not all, active Wheelchair-Users have had the experience of a stranger grabbing them and starting to push them without even asking.
It is important to recognize that the fact that some Wheelchair-Users need or want to be pushed has not bearing on whether other Wheelchair-Users need or want to be pushed. For example, running is a hugely popular activity around the world for millions of people, yet even more people don't like to run. In terms of the Able-Bodied, to run or not to run is clearly an individual sentiment. On the other hand, all Wheelchair-Users are lumped together and viewed to be Passengers by society. And as a consequence, personal mobility options that enable Wheelchair-Users to be Pilots are very limited.
The first step to enabling Wheelchair-Users to enjoy movement is to recognize that many Wheelchair-Users seek the same quality and variety of movement experience provided to the Able-Bodied in terms of mobility devices. After all, mobility devices are all adaptions to the human body. Mobility devices for Wheelchair-Users are just adapted in a different manner.