Wednesday, October 13, 2004

MS Individuals Using Segways

The New York Times provides an interesting feature piece in its Circuits section tomorrow about the use of the Segway Human Transporter by individuals with various disabilities. It should also be noted that the creator of the Segway has developed a less-well-known wheelchair that can raise a person closer to eye level than a standard wheelchair and that can climb stairs.
Oft-Scorned Segway Finds Friends Among the Disabled
Published: October 14, 2004

WHIRRING quietly down the sidewalk on East 42nd Street and into a Starbucks one recent afternoon, Chandler Hovey drew looks and comments from passers-by.

What was most eye-catching was his means of transport: the Segway Human Transporter, a two-wheeled, gyroscopically balanced electric scooter. What was less evident, except to those close enough to spot the blue handicapped symbol on his scooter, was that he is disabled.

Mr. Hovey, 63, a money manager, has multiple sclerosis. For almost 18 months, his Segway has regularly transported him the roughly 30 blocks from his home to his office. When he is not using the Segway to dart around Manhattan, Mr. Hovey uses a cane, which he hangs on the scooter's handlebars, to help him maneuver around daily obstacles. But on the Segway, he appears as able-bodied as those he is passing by.

"Instead of being at fire hydrant height, you're at human being height," he said of many users. Several hundred people nationwide are using Segways to cope with disabilities like scoliosis and arthritis and even missing limbs, according to a group called Disability Rights Advocates for Technology, or Draft, which is promoting such use. Like Mr. Hovey, many have disabilities serious enough to require assistance with walking, but not a wheelchair.

The Segway, which has been generally available since early last year, is not approved (or marketed) for use as a medical device. And it has drawn opposition and even legislation in some cities over concern that its use on sidewalks endangers pedestrians. But that has not deterred disabled riders willing to pay $3,000 or more - a cost not usually covered by medical insurance.

Leonard Timm, an above-the-knees double amputee and a co-founder of Draft, said his group estimated the ranks of disabled Segway users nationwide at 400 to 600. Often, he said, they are using the Segway along with another device, like a cane, wheelchair or a sit-down power scooter.

Mr. Timm modified his Segway to incorporate a wooden seat he built that enables him to sit while riding. He is working on a new aluminum seat.

Disabled Segway riders cite health benefits like improved digestion and circulation. While their overall energy might not improve, some say they can now concentrate their efforts on things other than struggling to walk.
[ ... Read the full article ... ]

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