Happy International Wheelchair Day 2023!

'Group of six friends at a pub all smiling and holding pint glasses up for cheets while taking a selfi photo. The two in the foreground are a man and a woman. The woman has long dark, wavy hair with golden highlights, medium skin tone, and is in an active user, low back, black manual wheelchair. She is wearing a animal print spagetti strap tank top and jeans. The man has medium brown short hair, no beard, and is wearing a tshirt and jeans. There are four people in the background. The one on the left and closest to the two in front is smiling, has dark short hair with the sides buzz cut. She's wearing a grey tank top and is using a black electric wheelchair. The other three friends are one man and two women standing up. The man is wearing a kaki green t-shirt, has short black hair buzzed shorter on the sides and has dark skin. The woman beside him is wearing a white t-shirt has long brown hair and medium toned skin. The last woman on the back right is wearing an elblow length baseball style t-shirt with a white body and yellow arms.'

International Wheelchair Day on March 1st, is an annual global event that started in 2008 to celebrate the positive impacts that wheelchairs have had on wheelchair users' lives. As Gem Hubbard of her WheelsNoHeels channel on YouTube explains her short video What is International Wheelchair Day? International Wheelchair Day also celebrates occupational therapists, mobility seating professionals, funding organizations and other people who help wheelchair users get and maintain their wheelchairs.

This is Relevant for Developers and Engineers!

For fellow developers, and engineers. This may not be code, but it's still relevant to you too (and there's a free dev resource below)! Disabled people are our coworkers and peers as well as users of our apps, websites, and software.

Wheelchairs are Amazing Technology - There's Even Apps and Software

Besides, wheelchairs are a huge awesome technical feat of engineering and design. Did you know that electric wheelchairs and power assist add ons for active user manual wheelchairs often have connected software and apps?

For example:

  • e.Motion power assist wheels are activated by the user touching the rims. The power hubs in the wheels provide additional propulsion to allow active manual wheelchair users to go longer distances and tackle steeper hills and obstacles. The plus version of the app even has cruise control and remote driving with an on phone screen joystick: e.Motion app specs

A Handful of Facts About Wheelchair Users

1) Wheelchairs give wheelchair users freedom and mobility.

They're a huge positive improvement in the quality of life, and independence for wheelchair users. Wheelchair users are not "wheelchair bound" or "stuck in a wheelchair", they're using a mobility aid that does that - lets them be mobile.

2) Ambulatory wheelchair users exist. Not all wheelchair users are paralyzed.

Ambulatory wheelchair users use wheelchairs for a multitude of reasons including to increase their independence, decrease chronic illness symptoms, and avoid further injury. Disability, pain, and chronic illness are dynamic and symptoms fluctuate. For some the issue isn't with how their legs or feet work, it's just being upright or standing (e.g. low blood pressure). So one day someone could be using canes or crutches, walking short distances without a mobility aid, going for a bike ride (because that's still seated), and another day be using their wheelchair.

3) Wheelchair users can "look fine" and be any age.

Just because you can't see why someone uses a wheelchair doesn't mean they don't need it - and it's rude to ask a stranger about their personal medical information. e.g. "What's wrong with you?", "How did you end up in that?", "You're too young to be disabled.", "Is that your grandparents wheelchair?", "You don't look disabled."

For fellow developers and engineers:

When you're designing websites and apps think about including a diversity of people with and without disabilities in images - including wheelchair users of different ages, in different sports and environments, and of different ethnicities. (There's a link to an Unsplash collection to get you started at the end of this article.).

4) Wheelchairs are part of someone's personal space, and extension of their body - and a very expensive one.

So don't rest your arm, or foot on wheelchairs, or sit in them. That's the same as a stranger (or coworker) resting their arm or foot on you - or treating you like a chair!

Also, don't ever ever move or touch someone's wheelchair. If they're not in it - it's like moving a stranger's or coworker's car without asking. Most wheelchairs cost as much as a car!

If a person is in their wheelchair - pushing someone in their wheelchair without their consent is extremely rude, potentially dangerous, and is kidnapping. This is such an issue that there's self defence tips by and for wheelchair users, plus signs and patches for wheelchair bags.

5) Accessible toilets and parking exist because they're needed.

Both accessible toilets and parking are limited.

Just because you don't want to wait in line, or park further away, or prefer a larger toilet stall or parking spot doesn't mean you should use them. It's illegal to park in an accessible parking spot without a permit, and it's not nice or cool to use the accessible toilet if you don't need it.

... (But remember, not all disabilities are visible. So don't assume that someone who "doesn't look disabled" who has an accessible parking permit or uses the accessible toilet doesn't need it.)


For developers, engineers, and UX designers who've read this far ... congratulations, here's the link to the Unsplash image collection featuring wheelchair users

Gem Hubbard of Wheelsnoheels on YouTube: What is International Wheelchair Day?

Photo Credits

Cover Image: Elevate Beer on Unsplash