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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Stupid Ideas that Ignore Real Problems

Travel when one uses a wheelchair is needless difficult. Airlines are rude to all people but the industry has a deeply ingrained bias against all people with a disability--especially those such as myself that are paralyzed and use a wheelchair.  More generally, accessing any form of mass transit is inherently difficult for most people with a disability. As one who has traveled a lot in the last four months it is easy to conclude the vast majority of people who are not disabled or know nothing about disability either do not care or are at best disinterested. Not my problem I suspect is the prevailing sentiment. In this void a market exists for designers. How can a wheelchair be changed to fit the existing world constructed for bipedal people? Well, the most recent silly and useless invention that has been floating around the internet for a while is the folding wheelchair wheel.

This folding wheel is being hailed by many. Apparently people with a disability were very vocal and interested in a folding wheel. I do not know any of these vocal people. Indeed, I have sent a photograph of the folding wheelchair wheel to my paralyzed brethren. All thought the idea it was useless and failed to address the real problems we encounter when trying to access a plane, train or bus. Regardless, proponents of the folding wheelchair wheel state:

Getting from A to B in a wheelchair is enough of a challenge in itself, without considering the hassle of stowing the chair away each time its user wishes to travel by car, plane, or train. The Morph Wheel aims to make life a little easier in this regard, by providing a wheelchair wheel which folds into almost half its original size.

Not considered: Why is traveling for people that use a wheelchair a challenge? It is a challenge because the presence of people with a disability is an odorous burden to the airline industry. A folding wheelchair wheel takes up less space. It supposedly fits in the onboard luggage bins of an airplane or under a seat. This is great but I sincerely doubt time pressed and dare i say hostile airline employees will let a person with a disability put the wheels under a seat or in a luggage bin. Honestly, can you imagine showing up with this large black bag at an airplane gate and expect a positive reaction? 

How exactly am I going to get the not so small wheels depicted in the over head luggage bin? A friendly airline and helpful employee? I doubt it. The assumption here is that no person such as myself could fly from point A to point B alone. What about the wheelchair frame. Where is that going? Not under the seat. In the luggage bin? Not a chance. Oh, and forget a carry on bag. One to a customer.  This invention creates as many problems as it supposedly solved.

What draws my ire is the praise the folding wheelchair wheel is getting. Technology types and designers are lauding it as being a remarkable and important invention. This is not a surprise to me. History is littered with bad ideas and even worse designs that are supposedly wonderful for people with a disability. Rampant anti disability bias is the real issue. The problem is social. My presence is unexpected and unwanted. I take up too much space in a word designed for bipedal people. The answer is not to change whatever adaptive device I use but rather construct a social and physical environment in which all people with a disability are valued. Twenty-three years post ADA physical access remains an afterthought. The lack of logical and flawless inclusion has social consequences. I do not navigate throughout an airline terminal easily. I do not enter a building up a set of steps. I get into buildings through side doors or worse. Much symbolism is involved here. It is easy to conclude my presence is unwanted. And that my friends is  a social failure all the folding wheelchair wheels in the world cannot solve. 


Jo Kelly said...

I completely agree!!

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

That has to be one of the most useless inventions I have ever seen. What's the use of folding up a wheel when it goes with an entire chair?