The Evolution of Wheelchair Users

When I say wheelchair users, I don’t mean the elderly population, I mean people who cannot move their legs or walk properly from a spinal cord injury (SCI) or anything else.

When I say evolution, I mean my perspective on how the attitude of the wheelchair-using community has changed over time. Though I admit I’ve done no research into this, I’m talking very broadly, which I’m confident is safe.

The conclusion, which is actually an excellent place to start this, is that the wheelchair population has evolved to be more confident, more accepting, less shy, and less sulky.

If we go far back enough, people with an SCI just didn’t survive, and the same goes for those with anything that put them in a similar situation. After enough time, healthcare improved and people were able to survive, soon after came the invention of the wheelchair. From there, we assume it was not great for those in a wheelchair. My assumptions here are that the social norms coupled with the lack of accessibility for wheelchairs would make life much much more difficult. Think about medical supplies, housing, lack of elevators, traveling, and so on. All this can negatively impact the mentality of someone in a wheelchair, especially any dogma in a society where people in wheelchairs are seen as lesser since they can’t go around as many places, maybe can’t even attend school, and maybe the hygiene is poor as well.

People in a wheelchair may gain self-confidence issues and be very unhappy with going in public, even hesitant.

As I see it, today more than ever before, the wheelchair community has evolved to be much better, and below are my thoughts on why/how.

But wait, I must say a few things to consider. There are more people today in the world overall, which means that even if the per-capita amount of wheelchair users have stayed the same, there are more people in a wheelchair overall. With more people, that means there is a larger likelihood of having a… how do I say this? Basically, it’s the law of large numbers. What I mean to express here is that with more people in a wheelchair, the percentage of people in a wheelchair and depressed will begin to reflect what it actually should be. Here’s an example. Let’s say it’s documented that there are 1,000 people and 100 of them (10%) are in a wheelchair and 2 (2%) of them are depressed. Ok, but does that mean in 50 years when there are 100,000 people and 10,000 people in a wheelchair, are 200 of them depressed? Maybe, but now we do a survey and find 600 of them are depressed. that means the 2% went up to 6%, but that’s because the larger sample size means we get more accurate and representative numbers. If you survey only a few people, it can’t give you an accurate representation to project to a larger sample size.

Here’s why people today are more confident.

  • Medicine has improved, so the recovery is not only improved but the technology to help with the situation, such as more advanced catheters
  • Physical therapy has also improved with machines and knowledge, which helps with recovery as well as building strength, etc.
  • Accessibility has improved greatly, which means people in wheelchairs can do nearly everything other people can do.
  • Technology in general, such as social media platforms, has helped people build communities. This helps increase confidence as well as many other things.
  • Economically, since there are more people in a wheelchair, businesses can now feasibly be created that manufacture equipment such as hand-cycle-bicycles, as well as motorized wheelchairs.
  • The job market – especially with working on a computer – has increased the available jobs for someone in a wheelchair.
  • Because of all this, people in wheelchairs are able to contribute and get involved in society much more. That leads to greater social acceptance. This includes having models in wheelchairs.
  • Sports have become more adaptive, leading to greater opportunities for someone in a wheelchair to get involved in sports, which helps with fitness, making friends, etc.
  • Some of the things I mentioned above, in my experience as a US citizen, come from the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • I almost forgot to mention that the United States of America had a president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was in a wheelchair.

Today, I think there are more people per capita that are wheelchair users. This is likely from the advances the human race has made in all fields. One part is that people can now survive injuries that would otherwise kill them, and the other part is that there are more ways to get injured. However, an argument against this is that we have also dramatically increased safety in all fields. So maybe it’s the same per capita but just more people because there are more people in the world.

Do people still feel awkward in public and refuse to wear shorts? Probably. But probably not as many people as before.

Today, there is so much accessibility that, in my experience, I can live a life almost as I did before I was in a wheelchair. I have been able to conquer (if I had to) all the classic things someone might face when their life is changed dramatically by sustaining a spinal cord injury. BUT… I am now faced with the problems anyone encounters – irrespective of being in a wheelchair, but very respective of being human.

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