The Rise of the Adaptive Wheelchair User Innovator – Erik Kondo

Updated: May 2

When people think of person who uses a wheelchair, they tend to think in monothetic terms. In their minds eye, the wheelchair is some version of a bulky hospital wheelchair. The person using the wheelchair could be old, could be young, could be male, could be female. It doesn’t really matter. They represent some generic person with a disability who is limited to awkward wheelchair based mobility in primarily an “ADA friendly” environment. This image of wheelchair users has not really changed much over the years. As a result, adaptive equipment and products are designed for this non-descript wheelchair user who is seen to represent all wheelchair users. The result is a lack of radical innovation in products for wheelchair users by traditional manufacturers and designers.

Just as it is important to have “tried and true” products that work for most people. There also needs to be innovative products geared for people whose desires and capabilities exceed the stereotypical wheelchair user. This is the manner in which progress is made for all involved. There has to be a “cutting edge” or the “tip of the spear” for others to follow. Without these people, the entire industry will fall into stagnation.

Professional sports stars drive interest and improvements in mainstream recreational athletics. Fashion designers and runway models are the leading edge of the apparel industry. Celebrities drive cultural trends. The list goes on. Innovations are by their very nature something new. Something that has not been tested, approved, or may not even be practical for general use. Rather than being a completely new concept, most innovations are improvements/modifications/adaptations of existing designs and products. But if you think in terms of all designs for wheelchair users having to conform to ADA standards and regulations then much of innovation becomes stalled.

Enter the Adaptive Wheelchair User Innovator. This person is willing to adapt products, devices, and environments to make them work for him or her regardless of whether or not they were intended for wheelchair users. The vast majority of products, services, and environments in the world are not designed for wheelchair users, and this situation will likely always be the case due to comparatively low number of wheelchair users and their low economic power as compared to the general public. This is not to discount the importance of Universal Design and accessibility regulations. These are very important for allowing wheelchair uses to live enjoyable and productive lives. But these regulations don’t drive radical innovations, they serve as unintentional roadblocks to creativity.

In the able-bodied world, there are no limits on innovation. Products are constantly being designed that push the frontiers of human performance. The fact that much of these innovations are not suitable for most people, think wingsuits, electric skateboards and unicycles, racing motorcycles, hang gliders, etc., doesn’t matter. These innovations are not designed for everyone. They are designed for those who are willing and able to use them.

Following the able-bodied example, the Adaptive Wheelchair User Innovator is someone who is willing and able to adapt products and the environment as needed to achieve their personal goals. In other words, the Adaptive Wheelchair User Innovator adapts, modifies, hacks, and invents as they see fit, unrestricted by what society has deemed appropriate for wheelchair users to do.

Adaptive Wheelchair User Innovators are a fraction of the wheelchair using population. They could be manual or power wheelchair users. They are not limited to a certain type of disability. It is their mindset, creativity, and outlook that sets them apart. It is the Adaptive Wheelchair User Innovators who drive innovation. The knowledge and insights derived from these inventions then make their way to create products geared towards more traditional wheelchair users.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more noticeable than in the realm of adaptive sports. Adaptive sporting equipment devices are not regulated as medical equipment. As a result, they are unhindered by regulatory restrictions. One of the primary drivers of innovation is Adaptive Wheelchair User Innovators who have turned their passion into making recreational devices for others to use and enjoy. Advances in adaptive mountain biking and skiing has been spearheaded by Adaptive Wheelchair User Innovators.

The advances in devices for adaptive sports and recreation serve as shining examples of what is possible when devices are designed and manufactured with user enjoyment and high performance in mind as opposed to being limited by institutional status quo thinking.

The following is a list of some Adaptive Wheelchair User Innovators with spinal cord injury who have turned their creations into successful businesses.

Recreation and Mobility Products