top of page

Increasing Mobility for Active Wheelchair Users - Erik Kondo

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

A wheelchair is an overall effective means of mobility for active people with lower limb paralysis. 

It is most effective on flat hard smooth surfaces with plenty of room to maneuver. As the terrain gets progressively rougher, or softer, or more inclined, or travel distances increase, it becomes correspondingly more difficult for the wheelchair user to get around. Steps and staircases are the most difficult man made obstacles to deal with. Outdoor terrain that is rugged, soft, wet, muddy, snowy, inclined, rocky, and rooted represent the most difficult type of landscape to deal with. The majority of active manual wheelchair users want a wheelchair that is light-weight, low-profile and simple.  The reason is that this type of wheelchair is the easiest to get around in, take in an out of your vehicle, deal with smaller spaces and crowds, along with creating the least amount of visual impact. It works very well as long as the terrain is reasonably flat and spacious without elevated areas that necessitate climbing steps. Wheelchair users who live in areas that have smooth level sidewalks, curb cuts, ramps, elevators, accessible bathrooms, accessible parking spaces, wide hallways, wide and/or automatic doors, accessible public transportation have less problems with everyday mobility. On the other hand, places lacking in these features are much more difficult for the wheelchair user to navigate.  Creating a wheelchair that makes it easier to handle curbs, steps, stairs, rough sidewalks, travel long distances and ascend hills cannot be accomplished without substantially adding to the weight, profile, and complexity of the wheelchair which is expressly not desired by most active wheelchair users. Therefore,increasing mobility for active wheelchair users requires multiple Top Down and Bottom Up approaches.  1. Removing societal architectural barriers such curbs, steps, and stairways and replacing them with curb cuts, ramps, and elevators.

2. Designing light-weight, low profile, highly maneuverable wheelchairs that are easy to transport, simple to maintain that work well in urban landscapes.

3. Designing removable attachments to wheelchairs or temporary substitutes that can be used to enhance mobility in rural environments and specific situations such as outdoor recreation.

4. Wheelchair users must develop their current potential to the greatest extent possible. They need to learn the physical and mental skills that will maximize their wheelchair's performance relative to their level of disability.

“It is important to recognize that in terms of wheelchairs and wheelchair modifications, there is no one size fits all solution. Unlike ramps and elevators which are designed to serve as many varied types of mobility devices and people as possible, wheelchairs are highly specific to the individual and his or her wants, needs, and ever changing environment.”

In fact, what many designers think of as the "perfect wheelchair" due to it's multi-functionality and automated functions, is considered by many active wheelchairs users to be highly undesirable because of it's multi-functionality and automated functions. 

A simple analogy can be seen in the world of bicycles. Some people want bikes with as many gears as possible, some others only want one fixed gear. Some people want light-weight frames and very thin tires for speed on the road. Other people want frames with strength, durability and fat tires for rough terrain. Some want to push their endurance to the limit, whereas others want electrical assists. Some want to bike in a standing position, while others want to recline. There is no "perfect" bike. And there is no "perfect" wheelchair. When cities build dedicated bike paths, create safe bike lanes, provide ample bike parking, and encourage bike sharing, bike mobility greatly improves. The performance capability of a bicycler is function of the combination of his or her personal ability, bike's characteristics, and environment. And so it is with wheelchair users.


bottom of page