Wednesday, 4 May 2011

History of wheelchair

One of the first written documents that mentions wheelchair dates back to 1596 when a painting of King Phillip II of Spain, sitting on a chair with wheels, with arm- and leg-rests, was drawn. Like all similar endavours this wheelchair needed help from second person to move it around. For today's standards it looked more like baby's highchair. History books reveal that the concept of wheelchair was not unique to one ruler, since King Louis XIV was also using one. 
Next step in advancement was archieved in 1665 when first (documented) self propelled wheelchair was invented by German, Stephen Ferfler. Wheelchair had three wheels, and a hand-propelled mechanism was attached to the front wheel, so overall it looked like todays hand-bikes. It took another 200 years before wheelchairs started to taking up the shape and form as we know it today.

Manual wheelchair 
Of course the number of users dramatically increased in 19th century, when medicine progressed to a modern age and was for the first time in history able to prolong life to many previously terminal cases (injuries, accidents, illnesses, war wounds…). If initially wheelchairs were used just as a fast and easy mean to move disabled from one place to another, but this role changed as society progressed. Disabled were reintegrated in community, and wheelchairs allowed them to express their individuality and independence.
First patent for a wheelchair was granted in 1869 – wheelchair had a fixed frame a wicker seat and large rear wheels, which user had to turn to propel forward.
What would look like a modern wheelchair, began to get shape in the late 19th and early 20th century. Numerous inventions and improvements fashioned push rim for self-propulsion and slings for seat and backrests. The reduced size and weight made self-propulsion feasible and gave additional boost to rapid development in wheelchairs.

NRC's George Klein and his team
created the first practical motorized
wheelchair at NRC in the 1950s.
Efficiency of wheelchairs was prime topic at start of 20th century. In 1932 engineer Harry Jennings built the first foldable frame wheelchair, which allowed for easy movement and transport of the wheelchair. Along with his paraplegic friend he founded the Everest and Jennings company, which is still active today. Company is important, because they were also the first the first wheelchair company to come up with the idea of a mobile wheelchair. From this the first powered motorized wheelchair was born in 1951 (hence the expression powerchair).

Sport wheelchair 
The idea for sporting wheelchair came at the approximate same time, and when the famous Stoke Mandeville Games took place in Great Britain in 1952, ww2 veterans competed in games tailored for wheelchair players. After the event international wheelchair games were borned, and thanks to their popularity a variety of sport wheelchairs came to the market. Interesting thing is, that these chairs are tailored for sports – such as basketball, or tennis or bowling…

Modern electric wheelchair
In the 1970s, thanks to new materials, the wheelchair became more lightweight. This meant more manoeuvrability for the user, and also simpler transport from one location to another.
Advancement in the perfectiveness of the modern wheelchair is especially visible from 1980's. Designs of wheelchairs are lighter and perform better than ever before. Many new features improve the ride: suspension mechanisms which remove vibrations and jolts, strong but thin and light weight frames which enable better performance… During 1990's trend turned towards customization, as everything can be individualized, from designs, to add-ons… Advanced technology allows paralysed users to manoeuver wheelchair with breath control, and thanks to the fast computers even power chairs that rises up on 2 wheels for access to high places, and climbing over steps is available. The wheelchair and its surrogates, like exo-sceletons and other advanced assitive devices will continue to evolve and improve based.

Electric wheelchair 

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