For most able-bodied people the ability to walk, run, dance and swim is an activity done on an impulse with joy in a lot of cases and automatically decided in an instant. The physical and mental benefits of playing basketball or football with friends, going for a walk, swimming at the beach or jogging by yourself are both uplifting and stimulating of both body and senses.
Now imagine for a moment you were not being able to participate in these activities. Let’s say you no longer had your legs or arms, or you weren’t able to move without pain, you couldn’t hear, you couldn’t see, or you were confined to a wheelchair and needed assistance to leave it. How long would it be before that situation affected your self belief, self-confidence, your mental health and ability to socialize suffered.
Include in that scenario your ability to earn income, to travel to work and function once you were there. Huge pressure and stress on any individual and, one that surely needs to be supported with empathy, compassion and understanding, allowing for each individual whatever their background to achieve their full potential in life through access to the right equipment, aids, technology and support.
The power of technology
The availability of a vast array of aids to help in complex areas of disabilities in mobility, communication, sensory awareness, hearing loss, sight loss, is still quite cost prohibitive for most disabled people. It is amazing to see schemes in countries where money is scarce, using recycled materials to make prosthetic legs from pre used bamboo walking sticks, or innovative individuals using aluminum drain pipes with carved wooden feet for the same purpose.
In a shed at the bottom of a garden in Swansea South Wales a dedicated team of a charity, make as many prosthetic arms for children as they can with donations. The arms are colourful and have a simple mechanism where the hand with fingers can grasp objects by bending at the elbow.
At the other end of the scale, in a cutting edge military rehabilitation unit in the UK, major advances have been made in using sensors to enable pneumatics to mimic the function of the muscle of a natural leg for soldiers injured in conflicts, enabling them to walk in a more natural way and even play basketball.
The hope would surely be, that some day soon these advances would “trickle down” to as many people as possible across society with a subsequent lowering of the costs of production of these legs.
So what are the types of equipment and aids are on the market to access, and how important is mobility when disabled.
The range is massive but here are several areas to consider
- Walking aids – Non slip shoes – Sticks – Frames – Crutches – Insoles
- Prosthetic Legs – Silicone sleeves – Stump socks – Creams
- Incontinence pants – Shower benches – Shower seats – Shower suction supports – Shower nonslip mats
- Raised Toilet seats – Hoists – Bath attachments to lower and raise
- Mobility Scooters
- Mobility Chairs Electronic – 4WD drive mobility chairs – Adaptions for Cars – Hand controls – Steering Aids
The list goes on, there are aids for viewing computer screens, eye movement sensors for identifying words on a computer screen, hearing aids and implants, aids for reading, Audio books, Talking Newspapers.
Doctors Engineers and Scientists are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with new knowledge and materials.
Without access to a normal life.
The importance of mobility and being able to access when disabled cannot be overstated.
The effects to the individual concerned are life changing, their physical health, fitness strength and their mental health are tied to their ability to be active and mobile in society. The ability to go out into the world and engage with others naturally in the community, to get exercise, to engage in cultural activities like visiting the cinema, restaurants theatre or sporting events.
The simple normal activity of meeting socially with friends for meals or drinks, traveling on a bus or a train freely without having to book assistance in advance because the platform is lower than the access doors in height to the train or bus. Surely in 2018, to be able to use public toilets along with everyone else whilst out or to be able to board a plane or go on holiday easily should be a given in society today and yet recently a train company in the north of England banned mobility scooters from their trains prompting a guard telling a disabled person they had no right to be on it.
What can people achieve
Anything with the right circumstances and equipment is the answer to the above question.
All of us have been inspired by the sheer grit and determination of the disabled athletes in the Para Olympics, and various marathons around the world. Amputee soldiers have conquered Mount Everest, walked across the Arctic, rowed the Atlantic, but just as important in that list of victories are the many thousands of people who manage to walk down the aisle to their marriage after loosing their legs, or Bailley Matthews who at 8 years old completed a triathlon despite having cerebral palsy he proudly crossed the line on his own with no help, and the look of delight on his face will stay with a lot of people for a long time.
Massive steps are needed to be taken to open up the opportunity that science is delivering for disabled members of society, to wipe away the barriers to inclusion, wipe away the barriers to accessibility in all areas of life. Every person should be able to enjoy facilities and experiences, equally with their fellow citizens. All people, disabled or able – bodied should have the same chance to make a full contribution to society and not be limited by the level of access to aids and equipment they need to achieve this.
Government must legislate for this but we must collectively demand promote and lobby for it.