The evolution of personal mobility aids (PMAs) has seen a transformation in how society views individuals with limited mobility. For example, when we look back to the pre-PMA era, individuals with limited mobility or disabilities were often scorned by society, living as outcasts.
While the exact origin of PMAs is unknown, the earliest record of “wheelchairs” can be dated back to the 5th century, appearing on an inscription on an ancient Chinese stone slate. These wheeled seats were said to transport Confucius, a renowned ancient teacher and philosopher. It was an early version of a wheelchair and was more of a seat with wheels that was meant to be pushed around by a caretaker.
While wheeled PMAs only gained traction in the later years, walking sticks have been around even longer. At the end of the day, people used to pick up a branch to help them walk.
1500s to 1900s
Mobility aids only started to develop into something we are more familiar with around the 15th century. During that period, Queen Elizabeth of Spain established a hospital where injured soldiers were provided with therapeutic and prosthetic devices. During her time as queen, many institutions for people with disabilities were created.
Her husband, King Felipe II, suffered from severe gout, making walking difficult. As such, he was recorded to have used a wheelchair, called an ‘invalid’s chair’, that had elaborate features, such as foot and armrests, lavish upholstery, adjustable backrest, and four tiny wheels that enabled his servant to push him around. It can be considered similar to the modern-day pushchair.
Fast forward to the 18th century. It was then that wheelchairs evolved to a design most similar to the ones we see today. The main difference is that they had two large front wheels and two small rear wheels. In those times, they usually appeared in medical and surgical instrument catalogues, where they were primarily marketed as transportation tools for patients. They were typically heavy and hard to manoeuvre.
Towards the 19th century, wheelchairs made completely out of cane were introduced. They were primarily used by United States veterans of the Civil War. In the late 19th century, other modifications, such as rubber tires and wire-spoke wheels, were introduced. With that being said, despite their development, most wheelchairs were made for indoor use.
1900s to 1960s
Thanks to advancements in technology, the first folding wheelchair was introduced in 1932. And in 1953, we saw the world’s first motorised wheelchair. After World War 2 ended, many soldiers suffered from spinal cord damage, resulting in the increased need for wheelchairs.
While in those times, there had already been several modifications to manual wheelchairs, soldiers who developed quadriplegia were unable to use them. As such, with the support of various scientists and the Canadian Government, George Klein and his team invented the world’s first electric wheelchair.
1960s to 1980s
In the late 60s, mobility scooters were introduced as an alternative to motorised wheelchairs and gained much success. They were designed for individuals who were capable of walking but not for long distances due to arthritis or knee issues.
In the 70s, walkers were introduced. Made out of metal, they were and still are being used for walking. In the same period, Swedish polio survivor and inventor Aina Wifalk invented the first rollator, which comprised wheels at each foot and included a built-in seat for the individual to rest when necessary.
PMAs have certainly been through many centuries of modification and advancement, yet their primary use stays the same. In fact, significant strides have been achieved in the advancement of modern wheelchairs, with lightweight wheelchairs made out of titanium and aluminium being used, as well as the introduction of sports wheelchairs to enable specific individuals to take part in sporting events.
Nevertheless, if you are looking for PMAs, whether it is for yourself or for your loved ones, then look no further than Falcon Mobility. We are one of Singapore’s leading distributors of electric wheelchairs and scooters, ensuring that you can find what you need. Contact us to find out more!