Although not the biggest fan of the Six Million Dollar Man, I always liked the opening when the voice who spoke of the injured Steve Austin, said, Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability….. Somehow, it was comforting as a child to think that science, engineering and technology would come together in a fantastic convergence to make things work and keep them working.
Flash forward to 2017. There is advanced technology everywhere; on my oven, our TV remote, my iPhone. It’s not surprising that durable medical equipment has advanced leaps and bounds for those of us with physical disabilities. My newish power wheelchair cost over $30,000 (thank you insurance) and can detect unsafe maneuvering on my part and correct itself. I can drive it up a ramp that folds down from my accessible van, which has a floor lowered to allow me entrance. A safety system locks my power chair into place in the van.
Today travel with a wheelchair should be easy. Public restrooms, theaters, public transportation, air carriers and over the road buses must accommodate those of us with diverse disabilities. All seems pretty much like the TV show led me to believe, right? Not so fast! A major interference for those of us using durable medical equipment is the need for accessible features to be well maintained and operated by trained individuals. For example, the City of Cleveland has a Bus Rapid Transit System which travels a corridor across the busiest areas of the city. The dozens of stops are all accessible. A year after it opened I visited Cleveland and wanted to ride it. Each bus had small ramps to deploy to bridge the gap between sidewalks and the bus – but many were already unusable. Gaskets on the street at pick up areas had been destroyed by the buses. Experienced riders and employees told me to go for it and try to jump my chair over the resultant four inch gaps. I ended up taking a patchwork trip across town and back following instructions from other riders with wheelchairs. If you want to exit at Emerson, get off the left side, for 88th Street, use the front exit…..never get off at 76th, you can’t get back on!
A survey of people with neuromuscular diseases performed by the MDA found that 80% of respondents had used air travel, and a whopping 40% had experienced damage in flight to their wheelchair or scooter. Even an over the road bus trip can be harrowing. On a recent round trip to and from the Manhattan cruise ship pier, over 90 minutes was added onto the bus trip of every rider, because the technicians forgot how to fold up rear bus seats to accommodate a wheelchair. The third bus they tried that morning finally worked, but the driver seemed unsure of using the wheelchair lift. Naturally I spent an extra 30 minutes on the bus in Manhattan until the driver did the correct sequence for the lift to operate. Sure, we’ve got the technology, but can we make it work?
Steve Austin and company, where are you?