Propelling Change

Posted: October 19, 2007 in Mobility Mantras

The only constant in life is change. We’re born, we die, and in-between we age and we learn, we get jobs and we switch jobs, we find loves and lose loves, we succeed, we fail, and we grow. But, the foremost factor toward our successes in life, no matter who we are, is how well we accept, embrace, and foster change. Change is inevitable toward progress, and if we want to succeed, moving our lives forward, we must act upon change, not try to deny it.

I’m perplexed by those who avoid change in their mobility products, where in 2007, some still use wheelchairs from 1967 – not due to funding issues, but solely due to a personal reluctance to adopt modern mobility technology. After all, how is it logical that people choose to continue using 40-year-old wheelchairs when there have been such marked improvements in mobility technology over the decades?

I’ve recently ask several such users that very question, and they all had answers along the same lines: “It works for me, so why make a change?”

If one applied that logic to all other areas of life, one would never achieve any progress. A high school diploma works, but pursuing an advanced college degree certainly provides more career options and greater income. A marriage of convenience works, but one of passion and shared interests certainly inspires one’s life. Put simply, just because something works doesn’t make it the best alternative, and pursuing change is part of improving our lives.

And, that’s my answer to the question of, “Why change my old wheelchair if it works for me?” — that is, just because a decades-old wheelchair works doesn’t mean that it’s the best mobility solution.

In fact, in many cases, using an outdated wheelchair is the worst mobility solution, detracting from one’s life, just as potentially stifling as avoiding changes in our careers and relationships. It’s entirely possible that an outdated, 50-pound, steel manual wheelchair literally holds one back, where moving to a modern, 30-pound, aluminum wheelchair could literally moves one’s life forward through enhanced propulsion efficiency and increased transportability.

Another argument people make about not wanting a modern wheelchair is that a new one won’t fit as well as one of twenty-something years. And, to a point, they are correct – after all new shoes never fit like old ones. However, a skilled wheelchair specialist and manufacturer can replicate almost any seating and positioning needs, where even if one doesn’t want any changes to positioning, newer, more liberating wheelchair technology can still be worked in conjunction with existing preferences.

On this topic, I had the pleasure of meeting a gentleman at MedTrade this year. He explained to me that he’d always used E&J’s circa 1970 one-arm-drive manual wheelchair because it better met his needs than newer wheelchairs, that they didn’t steer or fold as well as his old, trusty E&J model.

Still, he eventually recognized that he was almost certainly missing out on modern technology, that a lighter, more efficient manual wheelchair would likely allow him greater mobility. From that realization, rather than holding on to what he new simply worked for him – the old, steel E&J – he had a current manufacturer custom integrate his existing E&J one-arm-drive mechanism into a new titanium wheelchair model. The result, he shared with me, has been profound, where his mobility is so enhanced by an ultralight wheelchair that he wished that he’d made the switch in the 1980s, rather than in the 21st century – that is, he wished he’d pursued change sooner.

Nevertheless, despite the countless examples of lives that I’ve seen positively changed by consumers who moved from decades-old wheelchairs to modern technology, some might say that it’s none of my concern if one prefers a trusty, old wheelchair over a newer one.

And, they’re right. We live in a fabulously free country, and just as no one has the right to tell another how to live life, no one has a right to dictate what type of mobility one uses.

But, as an individual with a disability, and in my consumer-focused roles, I recognize the remarkable liberator that enhanced mobility plays in our lives, where I know that, for example, a decades-old, 50-pound manual wheelchair can be replaced with 30-pound modern wheelchair, and dramatically change one’s life for the better. One can’t fault another for simply wishing everyone to have utmost mobility, especially when the advantages of modern mobility technology as a whole are indisputable.

Surely, comfort with the wheelchairs that we know and use offers utmost security – and, there’s merit to the notion of not fixing what isn’t broken. However, just because a product works for someone doesn’t mean that it’s the best solution, namely when dramatic advancements in technology have occurred. The fact is, wheelchair technology has improved dramatically over the decades, especially in the past twenty-five years, and it’s improved many of our lives.

What I ask is, the next time that you encounter someone stubbornly using a decades-old wheelchair, take a moment to find out why, maybe let them know how a modern wheelchair has improved your life, and how it could likely improve his or hers. No, we don’t want to drag anyone toward change against his or her will; however, getting them at least rolling in the right direction is a meaningful attempt toward fostering the mobility of others.

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