Why do I redecorate wheelchairs and walkers? People ask me this occasionally, and it’s a legitimate question. But sometimes they aren’t really asking about my motivations. They’re asking me why this is important. Maybe the reason, they say, that there’s so many patents for fancy wheelchairs that don't show up on the marketplace is simple. The designs are not practical. There’s no market for wheelchair and walker variety. These items are functional, they don’t need to be anything else, and it’s frivolous and shallow to pay so much attention to how they look.
How many designs do we really need for cars, glasses or types of phones? Sure, lots of people want different things out of their cars or glasses or phones, but let’s face it. Style isn’t just about practical considerations. We surely don’t need tens of thousands of styles of chairs or spoons. And yet, there they are.
Okay. So let’s look at actual, practical and proven reasons for style and beauty. There’s proof (see here and here for just a couple of examples) that creating a warm, inviting environment in hospitals and homes makes for better healing. Calm and relaxing environments are used to soothe nerves, decrease depression and help relieve stress. Hell, fast food restaurants and boutiques and casinos use specially designed environments to make more money. (see here and here) There’s plenty of evidence that we’re affected by our environment. Personalizing our homes, play areas and work spaces is as old as cave paintings.
In short, it’s important.
So what about mobility and disability devices? Is their clinical function- and let’s just say it- ugly design supposed to encourage users to hate them so much that they want to stop using them ASAP? Maybe that works on some people. But when you need these devices, you need them. Period. For many people, the devices aren’t a temporary choice, but a way of life. Making wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and prosthetic limbs more comfortable and lovely isn’t going to encourage laziness. So there’s no reason to make them without style. We surely have the technology available to make them amazing. We can even find ways to make them affordably amazing.
Here’s the deal. What are we saying to folks in wheelchairs, in walkers, on crutches by giving them so few choices in styles? We’re saying to these users that they don’t deserve style.
I call bullshit.
We may all need these devices one day. And I, for one, deserve style. I think you do too.
What do you think? And what style do you want?
A. Laura Brody
I re*make mobility devices and materials and give them new lives. Sometimes I staple drape.