wheelchair users

Statistics tell us that there are approximately 1-2 million wheelchair users in the USA and approximately 1-2 million wheelchair users in Europe. This means that approximately 1 in every 200 people in Western countries are in wheelchairs. That number may seem high to you. Where are they?

Walk along any street, any shopping area, any recreational area and look around. When you see 200 people, do you see 1 wheelchair? Almost certainly the answer is NO. And it is more likely to be NO in some states than others and in some countries than in others.

Why? It is hard to be in a wheelchair, and the reason for this is not due to the wheelchair. In fact, wheelchairs, wheelchair ramps, wheelchair lifts and other wheelchair accessories have been improving remarkably over the past two decades. As will be discussed below wheelchairs are lighter, faster and easier to use than just 20 years ago. But unfortunately society has not been advancing at the same rate. The reason you do not see so many wheelchairs has to do with accessibility and culture.

Accessibility

In some places, buildings, public transport, streets and sidewalks are slowly becoming more accessible to wheelchair users as wheelchair ramps are becoming more common. But in many places, if you are in a wheelchair you will not be able to move. Steps, curbs, broken sidewalks and inadequate public transportation provide barriers to wheelchair users. Wheelchair users are simply excluded.

Culture

There is discrimination against wheelchair users just like there is discrimination against people of different races. Maybe it is not openly discussed or recognized, but it is true everywhere and this discrimination is stronger in some societies than in others. At the minimum, wheelchair users are stared at and made to feel different and uncomfortable. In some cultures families feel shame and denial and wheelchair users are all but locked away.

The problems of accessibility and culture make it very hard for wheelchair users. It is difficult enough just to be in a wheelchair. But add to that the problems of accessibility and culture and it is easy to understand why wheelchair users often give up and stay at home. And it is easy to understand why you can not find 1 wheelchair for every 200 people you see.

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