The world of disability is becoming a world of different abilities, particularly for children. Thanks to legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, access to the daily needs of life is getting much better for everyone. In addition, our understanding of illnesses and injuries that lead to a loss of some abilities is also improving.
Spinal damage can include bruising of the spinal cord, a tear the cord, or a complete transection. Depending on the level of damage and the place on the spine where the damage occurred, children may suffer permanent loss of mobility. As a general rule, the higher on the spine the injury occurs, the more severe the damage. Spinal damage in the low back may limit the child’s ability to use their legs, but spinal damage directly under the skull can destroy their ability to breathe on their own. There is no such thing as a simple spine injury. But assistive technologies are making life simpler for those who have suffered spinal damage, helping kids adapt to their new normal.
New technologies, including crowd-sourced maps that can help kids adapt to wheelchair limitations, are greatly improving access and a return to normal life. New chair designs that easily collapse and tolerate conditions from rain to desert sand provide children with spinal cord injuries the chance to go anywhere. Other new technologies include smartphone apps that allow anyone in need to ask for and get help, whether that be managing a grocery store trip or simply navigating a difficult street corner. Finally, people are designing and manufacturing assistive grabbing tools for long reaches so that nothing is inaccessible from a chair.
Changes in legislation have made it possible for people with physical or mental limitations to gain access to a variety of common spaces and experiences, such as public school education. That being said, as of 2016 there are approximately 75 million people in the world in need of a wheelchair to allow them to participate in society. Fewer than 20% actually have access to one. Attitudes regarding differently-abled people are changing, but the access infrastructure needs to catch up.
One of the greatest features of technology is that it fosters connection across great distances. Needs can be expressed and hopefully met more effectively thanks to advances in plastics and metal construction, providing children in need of assistive devices access to tools to help them get out into the world.
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