How Society Perceives Assistive Technology

I’m both a disabled person and someone who professionally studies the way we learn, think, speak, and teach about disability, whether we intend to or not. I’m sometimes asked by parents or even kids if my husband and I, both wheelchair users, allow our kids, family members to “play” with our wheelchairs. The answer might surprise you: It depends.

How We View Mobility Equipment

In our house, we see mobility equipment as tools for independence. We’re grateful to have access to these tools because we know so many people do not. In the same way my 15-year-old describes a cool car he’s seen, we marvel at new models of wheelchairs. We definitely do NOT ascribe to the idea that wheelchairs are scary, off limits, or something to fear. For this reason, sometimes our own children, nieces, nephews, cousins, do give our wheelchairs a try. We’ve hosted pick-up wheelchair basketball games in our driveway or warned (too many times to count) not to lean back in our lightweight manual chairs before they inevitably crash (hopefully on carpet).

Using Wheelchairs to Educate Others

Wheelchairs are awesome. They can be fast and fun. That sometimes surprises people and I love the chance to challenge people to think about why that surprises us. We want the kids who grow up with and around us to see this side of wheelchairs. With any luck, they’ll go on to challenge others to question why they think of wheelchairs as anything but offering freedom. With more than 15 nieces and nephews alone, our crew could make quite the impact! There are exceptions to what and when we play.

Playing with My Stretto Power Wheelchair

My Quantum Stretto Power Chair is strictly off limits for play or test drives. I’ve learned that developing finesse for driving takes some time and skill. A chair of this size could really injure a person or pet, not to mention my drywall! So as much as it pains me to say, it’s safety first. This doesn’t mean it’s not possible to play with a power chair. As long as I’m at the joystick, time trials or cone races are possible. The kids can pick their wheeled device of choice: bike, scooter, roller skates (we’ve got them all) and it’s on!

Setting Boundaries for Our Equipment

Everyone defines their own boundaries with their medical equipment. An important boundary for us is when any nondisabled person is trying out a piece of equipment, they must immediately return it when it is requested. This helps emphasize that our tools (much like our bodies) are ours and when we need them, playtime is over. This also differentiates them from forementioned wheeled devices because there are important distinctions.

These rules work for us right now. Who knows what they’ll look like in a few years. I’d love to hear how you’ve navigated the boundaries of play and necessity @KaraAyers on Instagram or @DrKaraAyers on Twitter.

About Kara Ayers: Kara is a mother of three and lives in Ohio. She is an associate professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. In 2021, Kara spoke to the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Equity Taskforce about the need for people with disabilities to access the COVID-19 vaccine. Click here to learn more about Kara.

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