Helping makes us Human
One of humanity’s most endearing qualities, and – it could be argued – one of the very foundations of what makes us human, is the ability to adapt to the world around us to cater to the specific needs and requirements of those less able to do so. One example that really captures and personifies the ingenuity of the human condition is the invention of the wheelchair. It is not accurately known when the first wheelchair came into existence, although some historians date it as far back as the 4th century BCE.
Early self-propelled wheelchairs, that would evolve into the remarkable feats of engineering that we recognise today, first began to emerge in Europe around the beginning of the 17th century. It was then that German-born inventor and engineer Johann Hautsch constructed numerous rolling chairs, designed to comfortably aid the transport of the disabled. Hautsch was later succeeded by another German engineer and inventor named Stephan Farler, who created a three-wheeled chair that was operated using a rotary handle at the front.
Evolving with the times
Much has changed since the early, rudimentary days of Hautsch and Farler, as contemporary inventors and engineers have continued throughout history to update and remodel the wheelchair to fit the needs and requirements of the times. One of the most significant of these being the advent of the folding, collapsible wheelchair in 1932. This design, constructed from tubular steel, not only increased the chair’s usability and storage potential but also vastly reduced the chair’s overall weight. This ingenious change in design signified a crucial turning point in the chair’s development, as increasing focus was put into reducing the overall weight, eventually leading to the advent of the lightweight chairs that are commonplace today.
The chairs of today
Wheelchairs that are available on the market today from suppliers such as Karma Mobility are the result of over 70 years of design expertise and innovation. These chairs have evolved throughout time to fit the needs of an individual in the modern age, as well as provide optimum comfort and usability. Weighing as little as 8.3kg, contemporary lightweight wheelchairs generally feature arm and foot rests, as well as the ability to fold and collapse to maximise storage space.
Rolling into the future
All in all, models such as these are a truly remarkable feat of engineering that has come about through decades of research and development. However, although models such as the Ergo Lite Ultralight Wheelchair are at the top tier of their marketplace – design and development of new chairs is still ongoing – with scientist and engineers working closely alongside those who need them, to ensure all requirements are met. Recently, a student at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, designed the ‘CARRIER’ chair – a motorised wheelchair that addresses many of the limitations that contemporary wheelchair users face, such as toilet usability and reaching high objects. With continuing technological advancements combined with the ingenuity of designers and engineers, the future is only limited by imagination.