For centuries, wheelchairs have been helping people with their mobility. However, the wheelchair was originally developed for the sole purpose of assisting physically disabled individuals to move around. With the increasing technology put into the development of wheelchairs the wheelchairs standard function changed.
Today, wheelchairs are not only considered as mobility equipment but also a means for disabled individuals to express themselves. People can learn more about the wheelchair users because of the customisation and wide range of choices now available.
The most significant development was in the 16th century when a sketch was made portraying Spain's King Phillip using a chair with wheels and rests for the arms and feet. This drawing still exists today and proves to be the oldest artifact linked to wheelchairs.
Although very similar to the modern wheelchair, this ancient sketch showed something more similar to highchairs that are used by infants. By 1665, a man named Stephan Farfler was documented to have invented the first self propelled vehicle that resembles today's bike.
After significant improvements, the modern wheelchair began to take shape and by the 19th century, push rims, sling seats and backrests were part of the wheelchairs standard features. Throughout the 20th century various types of wheelchairs were developed., this led to today's choices which include :
- Foldable Wheelchairs
- Motorised Wheelchairs
- Sports Wheelchairs
- Lightweight or Aluminium Wheelchairs
For the past twenty years, wheelchairs have been built to be lighter and more efficient. It is now also possible to customise each feature (from frames to suspension systems) to suit the preferences of the wheelchair user. Depending on their lifestyle, wheelchair users may customise their wheelchairs according to physical needs, special performance, styles and images they would like to portray.
When it comes to customising to suit special needs wheelchair users can choose from simply modifying standard wheelchair features or designing the wheelchair from scratch. For this reason, even triple amputees can use wheelchairs because they can choose dual hand rims that will allow them to have total control of the wheelchair using only one arm.
For mothers who have this feature on their wheelchairs, they are able to care for and enjoy their infants more because they also have the option to further customise and add extended seating allowing them to keep their babies with them at all times. Apart from this, the wheelchair frame can also be customised according to the body frame of its user.
It doesn't matter if the wheelchair user is short or tall, they dont have to make do with standard wheelchair features as wheelchairs can be sized according to the wheelchair user. The user will find the wheelchair more comfortable to use if it is built for their specific needs. No matter what special needs a physically disabled individual may have, wheelchair manufacturers can address them.
When individualisation comes into play, users can customise their wheelchairs according to their personal tastes and lifestyles. Active wheelchair users often find it better to have customised wheelchairs so they can do what they want without feeling limited in their movement. Even sportsmen can modify their wheelchairs to suit their athletic needs. For this reason, wheelchair bound tennis players have modified wheelchairs with features such as reverse tilt-seating that help them use full arm and body strength whilst playing.
Wheelchair dancing has come about due to modifications on a wheelchairs centre of gravity to accommodate graceful moves without compromising the full functionality of the wheelchairs. Those suffering from limited control of their motorics can still dance if they have special handles that allow them to have their able-bodied dance partners assist them.
Although wheelchair customising is generally carried out by athletes, other wheelchair users customise their wheelchairs to improve comfort and daily use. Custom wheelchair frames can be made to order so that they fit the wheelchair users body type exactly. Furthermore, many prefer to customise the weight of their wheelchairs to balance both the wheelchairs performance and the wheelchairs capacity. The majority of standard or commercialised wheelchairs are built with adjustable features for easy customisation.
The personality of the wheelchair user is reflected in the users wheelchair, not only with the look of the wheelchair but also with the style. Today, wheelchairs can be custom made with colours and designs chosen by the wheelchair users. Apart from these, spoke guards, lighted casters, rims, and spinners can also be customised. Today, users can purchase leather bags, zip-ons, and wheelchair frame covers that can match the style of their wheelchairs.
Because of major developments in assistive devices, physically disabled people are able to not only become functional but also feel they are limitless in terms of their place and role in society. However, even with these recent developments, wheelchair users would not be able to do what they can today without public access and financial capabilities.
Thanks to the progressive action of society in creating ramps, special amenities, facilities, and infrastructure, the life of a wheelchair users has become somewhat easier. Some countries have even authored laws to help physically disabled individuals. Even countries without such laws have helped wheelchair users to some extent. If not because of such progressive considerations, wheelchairs could not have developed into what they are today.