Not just for rich white men and the police anymore

August 27, 2008 at 1:06 am | Posted in Blogging, Disabilities, Military | Leave a comment

Sometimes no matter how hard I try to stay on track and follow the “main theme” of a discussion, a small point will grab my attention. I am frequently distracted by something shiny when reading blogs- especially the comments sections. I think that the “conversations” taking place in the comments sections are a large part of what makes reading blogs fun for many of us, particularly when a blog has a diverse group of readers who comment. Sometimes I find the path the comments lead me down as interesting (or even more interesting) than the main theme of the original post and have to restrain myself from posting an overly long and more than slightly off-topic comment in response. Luckily, now that I have this blog I can blog my response and link to the original post rather than cluttering up the comments section.

In a comment on a recent post over LT. Nixon’s blog, Caroline of the USO Girls said:

On the segway…I’ve only seen wealthy middle aged white men and police officers use them.

She also included a link to a funny YouTube video of Segway polo. It almost distracted me again!

Most people do associate the Segway with law enforcement, and for good reason. Law enforcement is one of the largest groups of Segway purchasers. I think a lot of people would be very surprised to learn of another very large group. Segways are very popular among individuals with disabilities, particularly people with disabilities resulting in increased fatigue and difficulty ambulating over large distances (e.g. people with multiple sclerosis, some individuals with amputations, etc.). I found this really great article about the use of the Segway as a mobility device in the archives of the Stanford Daily. It references a local Segway dealer who says that one third of his customers are individuals with disabilities, one third law enforcement/security, and the rest from the general public. What’s really interesting is that this is happening despite the fact that the Segway cannot be marketed specifically as a mobility aid for individuals with disabilities and isn’t considered a medical device.

There are a lot of reasons why a Segway is an attractive mobility device for individuals with disabilities. One of the most obvious ones is that the Segway isn’t obvious. At least, not in the way a scooter or wheelchair would be. When a person sees someone riding a Segway, chances are good that they don’t think “Oh, he must be disabled”. With a scooter or wheelchair it’s probably more of an automatic thought than a conscious one. Although a person on a Segway does stand out from the crowd, it isn’t in the same way as if they used a wheelchair or scooter. Wheelchairs and scooters can be more difficult to maneuver in small spaces than a Segway as well. Plus, there are a number of different health benefits from standing while riding a Segway as opposed to sitting in a wheelchair or scooter.

However, there are institutional and societal challenges for individuals with disabilities who choose to use a Segway as a mobility aid. Some of these are due to the fact that the Segway isn’t currently classified as a medical device. Public agencies are having to develop new policies addressing the emerging use of this technology as a mobility aid and there have been conflicts with places of public accommodation related to Segway use by individuals with disabilities and the ADA. Lack of awareness of the Segway as a mobility aid among both the general public and among people with disabilities is a definite barrier to increased adoption of this technology as well.

Among individuals with disabilities, one constituent group that is adopting the Segway as a mobility aid in increasing numbers is injured veterans. A non-profit called DRAFT (Disability Rights Advocates for Technology) has started a program called SEGS 4 Vets with the sole purpose of providing Segways to injured servicemembers who would benefit from their use. Some of you may have read the post at Blackfive about the project or the story from CNN that inspired the post. There was even an article in the Army Times about it that indicated 157 Segways had been donated to veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan by SEGS 4 Vets as of July 21.

My personal opinion is that this level of adoption among injured servicemembers is a good thing. It’s an inescapable truth that most of the major advances in technology, medical care and treatment for individuals with disabilities have historically followed war and armed conflict. That’s a whole separate post though, so I’ll leave it at that for today.

If you are interested in learning more about the Segway as a mobility aid, please do check out the article from the Daily Stanford and the brochure titled “Universal designed technology solutions: People who have difficulty walking and the Segway” by Jerry Kerr available for download at the SEGS 4 VETS website.

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