As a Wheelchair-User for over thirty years, I see a widespread problem. The problem is that Wheelchair-Users are mostly locked out of engaging in what I call Acquired Complex Motor Mobility (ACMM) based activities. ACMM refers to personal mobility that results from the person's acquired skill and is primarily centered around his or her balancing functions and trained neurological development. The result is not only a lower and deteriorating level of personal mobility, it also corresponds to Wheelchair-Users missing out on many enjoyable activities. For example, think of the difference in skiing performance between two identical twins, one is a beginning skier, the other is an expert. The expert has highly developed Acquired Complex Motor Mobility which results in having a much higher degree of mobility on ski slopes. The other twin, while physically equivalent, cannot move in the same manner. He hasn’t acquired the same ability.
Dealing with obstacles such as steps, stairways, curbs, rough sidewalks, steep slopes, narrow passageways and more, are everyday problems faced by Wheelchair-Users. But even if all of these issues were eliminated through the use of universal design and obstacle surmounting wheelchairs, Wheelchair-Users would still not be able to engage in ACMM.
The worst punishment you can inflict on a human being is long term social isolation combined with stimulus deprivation. In terms of personal mobility, social isolation results from people having insufficient mobility to engage in recreational activities with others. Stimulus deprivation results from people not being able to engage their minds and bodies to their full potential.
People have thrived for many years marooned alone, away from civilization, due to the wide variety of challenges from surviving day to day. Groups of people have thrived confined to stark prison camps and to bare bones monastery life when accompanied by strong social ties and interpersonal support. But lock someone away alone and remove his (or her) ability to engage his mind and body in stimulating activities and he will suffer greatly and deteriorate rapidly.
While I applaud the efforts of others to make life easier for Wheelchair-Users, my focus is to make life richer and more rewarding for them. I believe that the journey is, if not more, important than the destination. On the small scale, this journey refers to not just where you went, but how you got there, and what your journey was like on the way. On the large scale, this journey is your life. Did you take the easiest route, or did you grow and challenge yourself along the way?
Wheelchair-Users suffer from the double-whammy of (1) social isolation due to less opportunity for participation in meaningful activities caused by their reduced mobility as compared with their Able-Bodied counterparts and (2) less options to engage in challenging and enjoyable activities that develop their ACMM. The result is a large group of people who feel and are left out.
Many times, when they are included, their experience is less rewarding. For example, a Wheelchair-User who is either using a powered wheelchair or being pushed in a running road race is not having the same experience as everyone else. Yes. She (or he) is in the race. But unlike the other runners, who are challenging their minds and bodies and experience the pain and pleasure of running, along with the satisfaction of completing the race, she is simply along for the ride. This is not a criticism, but a statement of fact. Yes, she participated in the race. No, she did not participate fully in the experience.
My goal, is to promote the use of creative engineering and innovative technology to design assistive mobility devices for Wheelchair-Users in particular, and People with Disabilities, in general. In order for people to actually benefit from these designs, the focus should also be on affordability. The "greatest" mobility device in the world is of no use to people who are unable to afford it.