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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Walking is Over Rated

I never think about walking. Not in my dreams nor when I am awake. Walking has no relevance to my life. I do not miss walking one iota. In fact I think more about the way I push my wheelchair and use the gears on my handcycle. If people ask me about walking, and strangers often do, I emphatically state walking is over rated. This is a sure fire way to undermine any discussion of typical ambulation. When I shut down this discussion I also eliminate any reference to the myriad of ways in which the mainstream media glorifies walking. Here I refer to the silly, ineffective, impractical and expensive ways bipedal people dream of making paralyzed people walk again. Believe me when I state we paralyzed people do not think nor care about walking. It is a discussion and thought that does not enter our minds.  If you do not believe me I suggest you visit the website Walking is Over Rated. Link:  This is not the best website--great title but the content is spotty and dated. However it does get the point across--walking is over rated. 

In an effort to put bipedal people in their place I read with delight a post by Red Nicholson entitled "Why the Obsession with Walking?" Link: Nicholson correctly asserts the obsession bipedal have for getting paralyzed people walking has reached a fever pitch recently.  I watched and laughed when I saw the World Cup exhibition that had a paralyzed man strapped into an exoskeleton kick a soccer ball. This was anti climatic in the extreme and thankfully was quickly dismissed by the mainstream media. This came as a relief to me. The exoskeleton is the latest and most expensive useless means to get paralyzed people to walk again. When I read stories about the exoskeleton I cringe. Nicholson hits the nail on the head when he wrote: 

Believe me when I say this: my wheelchair is a very capable tool and to be honest, the last thing I want is to be strapped to a District 9-esque robot and become a puppet in some corporation’s half-baked execution of an obsession with making the non-walkers walk again. Because the trouble with this narrative, if it wasn’t already obvious, is that the journalists who write these stories are unwittingly invalidating a unique way of life for millions of people around the globe who are really happy with their wheelchairs. The implicit message from the media seems to be, "Wheelchairs suck! Walk in this robot instead!

This is the image we are left with: 

Nicholson correctly notes the problem with such images and inventions such as the exoskeleton is that people who use a wheelchair do not dream or yearn to walk. We are too busy with our lives. Work, family, marriage, child rearing and friends occupy our time and thoughts. Worse, when we paralyzed people do not share or express an interest in the obsession with walking there can be a severe backlash.  We are thought to be bitter party poopers or delusional and perhaps mental ill. Surely everyone wants to walk! Sorry, but no. I do not want to walk. I do not miss walking. 

Nicholson concludes that he has: 

no more desire to be strapped to a robot than I do to go swimming with great white sharks. In truth my life as a wheelchair-user is a very good one. I do a lot of great things and know a lot of great people. So hey, able-bodied media: quit making me feel like wheelchairs are a shitty, sub-par option. Stop beating your exoskeleton drum. And most of all, let go of your obsession with walking, because it’s totally overrated. 

I would like to second Nicholson's observation and take the critique one step further (pun intended). The exoskeleton is inherently misleading and its benefit to paralyzed people has not been established. The exoskeleton is Department of Defense research detritus used by profiteers who sell the dream of walking to newly paralyzed people who cannot imagine life as a wheelchair user. As such the exoskeleton is symbolically and practically destructive to a newly paralyzed person. So I would urge paralyzed people to boycott this device! Screw the exoskeleton. Screw walking! Get me a good wheelchair, an excellent wheelchair cushion, and some adaptive sports equipment so one can remain in excellent physical health. Better yet, get paralyzed people a job. Forget about the exoskeleton. Take those funds, the millions of dollars of potential waste, and put a job placement office in every rehabilitation facility. Empower paralyzed people to do what we Americans love to do: work, make a decent living, and be autonomous. Own a home even. Have a family. Get married. In short, be ordinary. Walking is simply not required for all this nor should it be glorified. 


Shane Clifton said...

hear hear. I get sick to death of the endless news stories where yet another device helps a person with an SCI to take a few cumbersome steps. I am not trapped in a wheelchair, but freed by it.

Michael C. said...

I agree walking is overrated.
Yet If that idea is what drives good research , with all its benefits aside from "walking" it's fine with me.
We can voice our preferences as to what should be funded , but biomedical research is worthy as any imho.

william Peace said...

Michael, The exoskeleton as marketed and funded is bad science. It may have some value in terms of secondary complications associated with paralysis. Bowel and bladder function. Improved circulation. But one could also use a tilt table or standing wheelchair frame to get people uptight. The exoskeleton is a gimmick that resonates with people who know nothing about disability.