Wheelchairs aren’t any more complicated than bicycles, but they cost a ridiculous amount of money. They shouldn’t. Neither should other simple accessibility and mobility equipment. In the U.S., people with disabilities who need adaptive devices depend on donations, charitable agencies, insurance, and a corrupt multi-billion dollar industry that profits from limiting access to information.
With a cultural shift to a hardware DIY movement and the spread of open source hardware designs, millions of people could have global access to equipment design, so that people with disabilities, their families, and their allies can build equipment themselves, and have the information they need to maintain and repair their own stuff.
Since we can’t all do it ourselves or weld our own chairs, we also should encourage a different mindset for the industry. You can’t stand up all day at your desk, but you don’t need a doctor to prescribe you a $6000 office chair. A consumer model rather than a medical and charity model for mobility aids would treat wheelchairs simply as things that we use to help us get around, like cars, bikes, or strollers.
Small assistive devices such as reacher/grabbers, page turners and book holders, grip extenders, can be made with bits of rubber tubing, PVC pipe, and tools as simple as box cutters and duct tape. Rather than obsess over impossible levels of healthiness and longevity, we need to change people’s expectations of how they will deal with changing physical limitations. Popularizing simple designs, and a DIY attitude for mobility and accessibility gear, will encourage a culture of invention that will be especially helpful to people as they age.
Liz Henry is a producer and developer at BlogHer, the award-winning aggregation, syndication and advertising network for women bloggers. She has been writing online since 1990, drafted the Common Public Attribution License for SocialText, and has been a key figure in organizing BarCampBlock, WoolfCamp, the Tiptree Awards and Wiki Wednesday. She has been a wheelchair user for fifteen years, and is a proud member of the Secret Feminist Cabal.
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