Four wheels good, two legs better

Ok, folks. I was reminded of this device http://www.matiarobotics.com/ once again by a dear (able bodied) friend who posted it on a social media site. I had happily forgotten how ridiculous it is but now that it was brought to my attention I need to say a little about it. What makes it really ridiculous is the heading of this video: http://www.wimp.com/newdevice/  and especially the heading, “New device makes wheelchairs obsolete” That is probably the worst load of false advertising that I have seen for a long time, especially in the light of this quote on the main site from the user in the video: “By using this device, I can get up whenever I want. It’s wonderful to stand up on my own because I spend my life sitting.” (my underline) And he is right. He will spend his life sitting. Unless, of course, he lives in a world that is completely flat with no curbs, hills or floor surface obstacles.

The wheels of this device are ridiculously small and therefore it would probably work really well in an office building or a hotel or something like that – but for heaven’s sake; do not bring it outside if you don’t want to experience a spectacular spill! Aside from that, I wouldn’t use it to race a snail. Who wants to be a few inches (or feet) taller and spend three to four times as long getting from A to B? I see no forest of hands in front of me, I’m afraid. It also seems really cumbersome to get in and out of. It has a turning radius of an old fashioned hospital style wheelchair and I wonder how much it weighs in case somebody needs to pick it up over a 3 inch curb or push it up an incline.

But it is not so much the completely impractical nature of the contraption that makes me squirm when I see it. It is the overt ableism that it represents – by itself and especially by the video on the website. It is a symbol of the bipedal hegemony that unfortunately seems to be the frame of mind with people in the disability aid industry. To paraphrase George Orwell, the thinking goes something like this: “Four wheels good, two legs better.” It is not good enough to have found what up until now has been the ultimate aid for us with a walking impairment, the good old wheelchair. No, there must be some kind of device that can make it look like we are able to stand up and – hopefully – make the impression that we’re walking.

Why, I ask in all modesty? Why does it have to be so?

I don’t know who you would trick into thinking that I am walking with that thing, even if they can only see my upper body and not the actual contraption. I would still be moving like a slow and cumbersome version of R2D2, and most likely also sound like one – something that might be the only allure to a sci-fi freak. Then again, nah…

The video is worth a closer look. I assume it is made to sell the device by mentioning some of the problems that people with walking impairments have, but it utterly fails to show how their device will alleviate these problems – mainly because it never could. It also fails to address one of the most prevalent problems that many wheelchair users have, namely muscle contractions caused by extended time spent in a sitting position rendering the device utterly useless.

Let me quote what seems to be a dubbed version of what associate professor, Hurriyet Yilmass (no further credentials) says in the video and then make a few comments about the nonsense the company has chosen as its selling points. “People facing spinal cord injuries typically are forced to spend their lives in a wheelchair” Nice ableist start from the supposed professor. It amounts to me saying something like “People who have never learned to swim typically are forced to spend their life on land,” or the even more ludicrously fitting: “People who do not have the ability to fly typically are forced to spend their lives on the surface of the Earth.” Yes, we use a wheelchair. And like everybody else on this planet our circumstances ‘forces’ us live our life in the best possible way we can, for us it is using a wheelchair for others it is staying close to the surface of the earth and for some it is not getting too far out into the water.

“In addition to losing their ability to walk, they also lose the ability to stand up,” Yeah, the ability to stand up is a prerequisite for walking so what are you saying exactly? “This causes a variety of unwanted health issues, especially problems such as cardiovascular disease, blood pressure irregularities, pressure sores and problems of bowel and/or bladder functions which also directly lead to additional medical costs.” Ok. Let’s pause here for a second. Yes, she is (more or less) spot on with what she says here. But there is not ONE THING on her list that is alleviated by the stand-up-device. She is stating something blatantly obvious that has no bearing on what she is trying to push. To add insult to injury, she talks about additional medical costs, forgetting that what she is trying to sell is probably going to double or triple the medical costs of the suckers who consider buying it.

She continues her inane chatter in this way: “Other devices that help patients to stand up are usually structurally bulky, require outside assistance and cause the user to spend extended amounts of energy.” Excuse me, have you looked at this contraption? I have seen ones like it that are just about the same size – in the 1980’s, mind you. And to my limited knowledge, they were equally useless, if that is any consolation.

“The main advantages of Tec are that users can do almost everything that non-paraplegic people can do indoors without any assistance and without the need for special modifications” So, I ask, what activities can be done with this that could not be done in a wheelchair aside from reaching the high shelves and the top cupboards? I fail to see it being an advantage that it moves at a considerably slower rate of movement and a more cumbersome and unnatural body posture due to sitting up in a sling in an upright position.

“It facilitates active and comfortable participation in social life. And users can bend down and alternate between standing and sitting positions. In fact, the user is able to do so while maintaining safety and balance” This is where the misinformation virtually turns into lies. Compared to sitting down ‘active and comfortable participation in social life’ is certainly as close to untrue as it gets. Hanging in a sling will never be better than sitting on a decently fitted seat with good back support. And when you have no use of your legs, a standing position will always be sketchy at best due to the lack of a natural sense of balance. I wonder how the user can bend down, but I will leave that alone. When it comes to ‘safety and balance’ I am certain it is made so one doesn’t fall, but that still does not compare to the inherent safety and balance that comes with sitting down in a chair. That leaves us with one true statement wrapped in a load of BS, ‘one can alternate between standing and sitting’ and hooray for that! It seems like the wheelchair is superior to this ridiculous device in all areas except for reaching up high.

And that brings us right back to my statement that it is created from an ableist, bipedal mindset – and nothing else. It is not intended for making life easier for cripples, it is made for some to feel more normal while for all intents and purposes making them more impaired in their daily lives.

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Planes, trains and automobiles

I have used many kinds of transportation throughout the years. I have been lucky enough to be able to use public transport for the better part of my life when I was in Copenhagen or other metropolitan areas. I lived for most of a decade in rural Washington, hitch-hiking wherever I wanted to go. I also used my chair for long distances, and we’re talking pushing for days to get somewhere. Yes, I have been blessed with seeing large parts of the world without utilizing my own motor vehicle.

After having bad a few old beaters and a wonderful motorcycle with a sidecar while still in Washington, I finally broke down when I redeployed to Denmark and got myself a brand spanking new van (partially subsidized.) And I might as well admit it, it was a great feeling being able to move around a lot faster than before. Of course I missed the long summer nights trekking here or there while listening to the birds performing the best they know – but not enough to leave the van behind and go down the road in my chair. And I have really loved being a motorist most of the time.

There is one thing that bothers me to no end though. And that is the fickle nature of non-standard equipment in my van. I don’t know if they make it to break but I have a strong suspicion. I spend more time in the cripple garage than I do in the other garage. The lifts in the two vans I have owned so far have both been of such a nature that they can’t withstand the weather (and I am not just talking about the nasty winters here in Denmark, they are equally bad in the summertime) and if it’s not the weather that is their bane, they just decide to leak hydraulic oil, or the door decides not to open properly (something that seems to happen bi-monthly) and then I am back with the other cripples in the ‘special’ garage, looking at babbling kids with crash helmets used for walking and drooling adults driving their aides mad right before my eyes.

Sitting there it makes me wonder why it is expected that I take the day off for this task. Which immediately makes me think about all the other things I spend my time doing… as a result of my disability. Time at the hospital, time at the apothecary, time on the phone with various government and semi-government agencies, time spent filling out forms for the aforementioned agencies (and God knows they love forms – the more mindless drivel they can put into a form, the better it seems), time spend explaining some 16 year old clerk why I need to speak to one of the aforementioned government employees who actually  knows something and not a 16 year old clerk, time spent fixing and maintaining my wheelchair (or any other piece of equipment that I need for my daily living), time spent hiring, firing and trying to find new aides, time spent keeping track of their salaries and reporting them to the right person.

Then things were a lot easier when I spent my time hitch-hiking around the Western States. Me, my backpack and my sleepingbag tied to the chair. But that was half my lifetime ago and things have changed. However, I still remember the Native American guy who picked me up by Pyramid Lake in Northern Nevada and told me to travel with the hawks while handing me a hawk feather and a pack of cigarettes as a parting gift. And to this day I try to uphold my promise to this wise man and live a life that takes me where it is supposed to.

But boy, it seems difficult when I sit there staring into my coffee cup while contemplating the redundancy of getting something fixed that in reality should just work properly and not break down for the third time in 8 months.

I say, please let me pack a bag. It requires no hawk’s eye to see what direction I would take my flight. I know that and so does she.