New, adaptive technology is enabling wheelchair users to adventure out on any terrain – including ski slopes, rapids, mountains and other unfamiliar territories.
Estimates suggest that 15% of the population worldwide has some aspect of disability and, as inclusive tourism is a rapidly growing area of the industry, the more items that are designed to improve access for disabled people to travel, the more the world becomes accessible.
The Joelette, an all-terrain chair produced Ferriol-Matrat, has just a few components: a bucket seat, a central wide wheel and four bars for two guides who are needed to manoeuvre the chair without having to exert much force. The front guide controls traction and direction while the rear guide handles balance. The frame is welded steel tubing with a hydro-pneumatic shock absorber for comfort.
Explorer Jamie Andrew is a quadruple amputee following a climbing accident in the French Alps. Specialising in ice climbing, and with the help of prosthesis engineers, he has designed special prostheses with ice axes and crampons.
The problem many explorers have, however, is that everything must be made specifically. Though some adaptive technologies are becoming more commercially available (such as skiing feet), things like special, custom-designed protheses will often be designed by, and made for, specific individuals. And that all comes at considerable expense.
There are more easily available products for adventurers, such as hoists, belts or ergonomically designed body balanced adaptive chairs which are making adventure activities like water rafting, kayaking, sailing, bungee jumping, flying planes, skiing and paragliding more accessible and available. Companies such as Planet Abled specialise in adventure experiences for travellers with disabilities. And specially designed wheelchairs or adaptations like the FreeWheel which clips to the front of a manual wheelchair lifting the casters from the ground and transforming it into a three-wheeler making tricky terrain such as sand, snow and rough trails easier to traverse.
The aim of WeWalk is to develop a ‘smart’ cane for visually impaired people that incorporates a gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, directional vibration motors, microprocessor, touchpad, microphone, speaker and Bluetooth Low-Energy module. An ultrasonic sensor allows objects at all heights – that a traditional cane might miss – to be noticed. It can be fitted to any existing cane and AI customises it to the user’s own habits.
The OrCam MyEYE also uses AI to learn to recognise and distinguish between faces and take hand gestures as commands. By assigning names to faces, when it recognises a face, the MyEye automatically tells the wearer who it is, and pointing triggers it to identify an object.
So far, and welcome as they are, many of these developments are standalone solutions which are often replicated repeatedly. Solutions for all, through the principles of Universal Design, could bring solutions together more quickly to have a quicker and bigger impact.
Lewis Reed Group
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