Asst. Prof. Bonita Sawatzky shows how a Segway allows a disabled person to stand tall while getting around - photo courtesy of Bonita Sawatzky
UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 1 | Jan. 4, 2007
Segways for Disabled People
By Assist. Prof. Bonita Sawatzky
Orthopaedics UBC, Divison of Pediatric Orthopaedics
Two physical therapists at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, Kelly Hiller and Ian Denison, came to me two years ago wondering how they could study whether the Segway Human Transporter could be used by people with mobility impairments. There was no research to indicate what physical requirements a person needs to operate a Segway, yet we thought it might offer significant opportunities for disabled persons. We received funding from the In it for Life fund through Vancouver Coastal Health to determine physical and functional predictors towards successful operation of a Segway.
We invited participation from anyone (aged 19-65 ) with a mobility impairment who could walk six metres either independently or with assistance. We involved people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, amputations, arthritis, incomplete spinal cord injuries, etc. The surprising finding was that all these people were successful using the Segway. People who had significant difficulties walking were now whizzing around on the Segway.
Our attention turned to possibilities for more involved disabilities. After much debate among the researchers, one of our subjects with no muscle function or sensation below the chest managed to get on a Segway and operate it safely. This individual has since bought his own Segway and this is the first year he has gone “hiking” and camping with his family. It’s changed his life -- people don’t even know he’s disabled when he’s riding by on the Segway. He stands high and tall and can look people straight in the eye instead of constantly scanning the ground, hoping he won’t trip over a small pebble.
Our challenge now is with gaining access for these individuals to use the Segway just like a power wheelchair in public. Currently, there are restrictions to using a Segway on sidewalks and indoor shopping centres for able-bodied individuals. We are focusing our attention on ways to gain access for Segways used by disabled people.