Mobility assistance has come a long way since the walking stick days of yesteryear. Although canes are still a popular option for mobility challenged folks, there is a plethora of other, more advanced technologies out there that help people get around every day.
Among these technologies are walkers, wheelchairs and even robots. Mobility aids such as these have helped countless people get back on their feet, and as the years go by, continue to improve. And if you’ve ever wondered, here’s how it all started:
1. Walking Sticks
The good, old-fashioned walking stick is about as old as time itself. Otherwise known as a cane, the walking stick entered the European tradition in the 17th and 18th century. It quickly became a staple in the European Gentlemen’s wardrobe, and as the years went on, started to take on different shapes and sizes.
- The first walking sticks were made from felled wood and used to clear brush and grasses from trails. They were also used as a balance point when crossing streams, and in some cases, as a defense against wild animals.
- As time went on, canes became much more fashionable and ornate. Cane collectors, known as rabologists, travel the world in search of these decorative pieces, some of which are worth thousands of dollars!
- Most importantly, walking sticks acted as inspiration for commonly used mobility aids such as walkers, crutches, wheelchairs and many, many more.
Wheelchairs may have fancy bells and whistles on them nowadays, but this wasn’t always the case. Dating back to 6th century China, wheelchairs used to be nothing more than glorified wheelbarrows. However, as the technology continued to develop, so did the ways to transport disabled people.
- Records of wheeled furniture showed up in China around the 6th century, but it wasn’t until three centuries later that Chinese artwork depicted the use of a wheelbarrow to transport disabled people.
- With help from his disabled friend Herbert Everest in 1933, Harry Jennings took the original wooden wheelchair design and created his own collapsible, steel version which is still used to this day.
- Many contemporary wheelchairs feature electronic motors that make it even easier for disabled people to get around. Also, for those who can’t control their chair via joystick, chin-operated apparatuses and sip-and-puff systems are also available.
It may seem straight out of a sci-fi novel, but over the past decade, robotics has come to the forefront of mobility assistance. Asimo, Honda’s very own mobility-assist-bot, was introduced almost 15 years ago, and although suffering some initial drawbacks, the little guy has inspired countless others to build machines of their own.
- Aside from Asimo, Honda specializes in Stride Management Assist, Bodyweight Support Assist and other personal mobility assist technology. These technologies not only help those disabled, but also lighten the load for people who work in industries with heavy machinery.
- Wearable robotic suits, such as those from Ekso Bionics, continue to saturate the mobility assist market, making it more possible for paraplegics to escape the confines of their wheelchairs and live normal lives.
- Although most bionics are currently restricted to hospitals and other medical facilities, consumer grade MedTech is on the horizon thanks to the progression of mobility assist technology.
It’s hard to say what the future holds for the world of mobility assistance, but as the demand continues to grow, and the technology continues to exceed its limitations, it won’t be long before mobility handicaps are a thing of the past.
And although there are still strides to be made, with the amount of passionate and knowledgeable people in the industry, it will be amazing to see just how many people will learn to walk again.
Cheryl Swanson is a former caregiver and senior health adviser. She enjoys long walks on the beach and spends her free time writing for Just Walkers, a company specializing in mobility assistance products for people of all ages.
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