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A short history of powered wheelchairs

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  • Political Science
  • Psychology


This article recounts some early findings on a history of powered wheelchairs in the 20th century from an analysis of archival materials, oral accounts, and secondary sources. The primary goal of this article is not to provide the definitive history of powered wheelchairs, but rather to further our understanding of wheelchair innovation through a historical analysis. The paper sheds light on some of the richness and complexities involved in powered wheelchair innovation, highlights the nonlinearity of that process, and explores the roles of and the relationships between social and technological change. Although it is evident that powered mobility has revolutionized the life experiences of many disabled people, enabling independence, social interaction, and even the facilitation of socio-psychological development, few have charted the social and technological topography that brought this revolutionary change about. In partially mapping the history of powered wheelchairs, this paper draws attention to the idea that wheelchairs are not simply technical devices, but also social and political machines entwined with socio-political conditions and expectations.

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