Mobility, access and inclusion: Empowering independence on International Wheelchair Day 2024

International Wheelchair Day is an opportunity to celebrate the advancements in wheelchair technology and accessibility striving towards the goal of a world where everyone is included. This year the theme is a true reflection of this as it explores mobility, access and inclusion around the world.

Wheelchairs are more than just mobility aids that allow a person to move from A to B. They are more than a means of transportation but in fact are lifelines that open doors to education, employment and social engagement. The advancements in wheelchair technology and service provision reflect a growing understanding of the diverse needs of wheelchair users. So next time you think about wheelchairs look beyond the person sitting there. See how wheelchairs have opened doors and opportunities. Here are some interesting facts:

  1. The earliest records of wheeled furniture date back to China in the 5th century BCE.
  2. The first known dedicated wheelchair was created for King Philip II of Spain in 1595.
  3. The first Electric-powered wheelchairs were created in 1912 by Harry Jennings and Herber Everest, revolutionising mobility for many.
  4. Wheelchair basketball was one of the original Paralympic sports, debuting in Rome in 1960.
  5. Today’s wheelchairs can be customised extensively to fit individual needs, including adjustable seating, powered options, and even off-road capabilities.
  6. Innovations like the lever-driven wheelchair offer an alternative to traditional hand-rim propulsion, reducing strain on the shoulders.
  7. Wheelchairs can now be equipped with smart technology, allowing users to control them with their voice or smartphone.
  8. The development of ultralight materials such as carbon fibre has led to the production of lighter, more agile wheelchairs.
  9. Wheelchair rugby, originally called “murderball,” is another example of athleticism and competitiveness that is not limited to using a wheelchair. I am glad they changed the name! 
  10. The Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon in a wheelchair is 1 hour and 17 minutes and 47 seconds.

Despite these advances, the journey towards global inclusivity has not yet been reached. There are still gaps and challenges in ensuring equitable access to appropriate wheelchairs, particularly in low-resourced settings. Addressing these challenges requires a global effort from all sectors of society, including healthcare professionals, policymakers and the community at large. 

Education plays a big role in empowering those involved in wheelchair service provision and usage. Resources such as guidelines on wheelchair provision and training packages offer invaluable insights for improving service delivery and user experience. 

As we celebrate International Wheelchair Day, let’s acknowledge not only the amazing advancements in wheelchair technology and provision but also look at ways of addressing the gaps that still exist. By building a global community that values accessibility and inclusion, we can make a difference in ensuring that every individual has the opportunity to live a life full of adventure, purpose, and community. Let’s share knowledge, advocate for change, and support initiatives that aim to make the world a more inclusive place for wheelchair users everywhere.

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