Many of us take for granted the ability to walk, run, and generally navigate our world; unfortunately for many people across the world stricken by disabilities, mobility is an everyday challenge that must be met. There are an estimated 56,672,000 individuals that reported at least one disabling condition in 2010; in the United States alone it is estimated that there are about 3.3 million wheelchair users. Thanks to modern wheelchair designs however, mobility is becoming a problem that can be overcome with newer and more advanced wheelchairs that offer greater degrees of control and comfort for their users.
The Development of the Modern Wheelchair
The first modern wheelchair was invented in 1783 by John Dawson in Bath, England. The Bath Wheelchair, as it was known, was based of earlier models of wheeled chairs such as that used by notable figures such as King Phillip the Second in Spain during his rule in 1595. Improvements were made to the Bath Wheelchair over the centuries to both improve comfort and accessibility for users; it was not until 1932 that engineer Harry Jennings would invent the first folding, tubular steel wheelchair which became the basis for modern wheelchair designs.
Not all wheelchairs are created equal: the main difference between manual wheelchair designs is tilt versus recline wheelchairs. Although both designs are intended to help relieve pressure that can be poorly distributed towards the buttocks and thighs, each has their own advantages. Tilt systems are specifically intended for sufferers of cerebral palsy, muscle diseases, head injuries, and spinal cord injuries; maintaining a proper posture is essential for tilt versus recline wheelchairs. Reclining wheelchairs are likewise ideal for those with muscle diseases, head injuries, and spinal cord injuries, as well as those who suffer from frequent spasms; when considering tilt versus recline wheelchairs, keep in mind that recline wheelchairs are typically viewed by users as less intrusive in a social or work setting.
Power wheelchairs have steadily increased in popularity over the past few decades. Many users enjoy the ease of navigation offered by these wheelchairs, as they no longer need rely on upper body strength for motion. Newer models offer increased turning power and can achieve speeds ranging from five to ten miles per hour. Many models offer high quality seating designs to allow for long term sitting comfort — some models even offer power tilting to give the user complete control of their sitting comfort. By 2018 the power wheelchair market is expected to reach $3.9 billion; it is not too unbelievable to consider a world where manual wheelchairs may soon be a thing of the past!