Everyday Gear Games/Recreation High Tech Public Accessibility Travel Wheelchairs

Segway Scooter as an Assistive Device

A group called DRAFT (Disabililty Rights Advocates for Technology) distributes Segway scooters through its Segs4Vets program, matching Segways with veterans with a wide variety of disabilities. Segway scooters have a very small ‘footprint’, with a turning radius that is much smaller than that of a power chair. For most users they represent a less-fatiguing, more versatile means of ‘walking’ — as well as one that accommodates a wide variety of terrain.

Best of all, say users, a Segway, unlike a wheelchair, allows face-to-face interaction.

Sounds like a great, feel-good post doesn’t it? Maybe — but it turns out that the obstacles these vets face aren’t the ones you’d expect. Because Segways go much faster than a power chair and appear to represent a greater threat to pedestrians, many cities (liberal, people-loving San Francisco, among them) have banned them. So have other venues: Disney World and at least one Barnes and Noble store in Arizona, among them.

Disney’s argument seems to be that the scooters haven’t been certified as ADA assistive devices; it’s unclear how retailer objections will play out. A Segway disability-use permit — like the parking placards issued by every state — would seem to be a simple, logical solution to the question of identifying scooter drivers with a disability, but hey, I’m only thinking logically here. While the world sorts this out, riders might want to pack a doctor’s note and see if some courteous information exchange can get them to that latte.

Segways aren’s for everyone with a disability. Though they can be modified in various ways, their use depends on considerable motor skills, along with a dose of good judgment. (Speed is increased or decreased by leaning forward or back; forgetting this can have serious consequences.) Those who use them particularly cite the advantages of being able to travel upright for longer periods of time, and the ease of getting where power chairs just don’t like to go. There’s a certain cool factor, too. Unlike a power chair, they’re likely to inspire some admiring glances; this assistive device is coveted by people without disabilities, as well.

Segway image from Flickr

High Tech Medical Practice Reflections

First Partial Face Transplant – 2 Year Follow-Up

isdin6.jpegIn November 2005, Isabelle Dinoire, a 38-year-old woman whose face was mauled by her dog, received an historic face transplant at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire d’Amiens in France. Two years later, her doctors have published a follow-up study of her case in the New England Journal of Medicine.

According to the NEJM article, Mlle. Dinoire “the patient is very satisfied with the results of the transplant”. She is able to eat, drink, and speak normally; it is said that, with make-up, her surgical scars are no longer evident. The results do appear to be remarkable:


The picture on the left is NOT a post-transplant image; it’s from 2001, four years before the face transplant, when Mlle. Dinoire was 34 years old. The middle picture is from November, 2006, one year post-transplant. The right picture is of Mlle. Dinoire in June, 2007, eighteen months post-transplant, showing her natural face, without make-up.

isdin-chart.jpegThe post-surgical journey has been difficult. Mlle. Dinoire has suffered several bouts of rejection and one of kidney failure. She has battled infections; she must, of course, take immune-suppresents for the rest of her life. The return of functional abilities has exceeded expectations, though. This chart (left), from the New England Journal of Medicine, tracks the changes throughout the first six months; her abilities now far exceed those noted here.

isdinpostop.jpegMlle. Dinoire’s case is controversial for many reasons. One of her doctors initially reported that she had attempted suicide; Mlle. Dinoire herself confirmed this in an interview with a London newspaper. Her injuries occurred when her dog was trying to rouse her from unconsciousness following the drug overdose. (Her donor did commit suicide, adding another layer of emotional complexity to the case.)

Mlle. Dinoire, a single mother, has a history of depression, and had been unemployed for a year prior to the incident. Criticism has been leveled at her doctors, who, some feel, may have chosen a particularly vulnerable patient for this historic operation.

Long-term, the physical problems alone may prove overwhelming. Notes The Washington Post:

Maria Siemionow, director of plastic surgery research and training at the Cleveland Clinic, which has been planning to do face transplants, expressed concern about Dinoire’s “unexpectedly aggressive immune response.” Scientists need better ways to prevent rejection of large, complex tissues such as faces, she said.

Siemionow, along with others, also expresses concern about the psychological implications; no psychological study has been published in connection with Mlle. Dinoire’s treatment.

isdin-doc.jpgBritish filmmaker Michael Hughes has made a documentary of the surgery; Mlle. Dinoire allegedly signed a deal for movie rights to her story earlier this year, netting (according to one account) over $400,000 (USD). The Hughes documentary is reviewed here (in French).

Whether Mlle. Dinoire’s pioneering venture will prove worthwhile over time remains to be seen. The potential scope of this experiment is breathtaking, yet it cannot help but recall the innocence and irony of Miranda’s words in Shakespeare’s Tempest:

O brave new world
That has such people in’t!


The Tin Noses Shop

The Origins of Plastic Surgery

High Tech

Trekinetic Documentary

trekinetic-field.jpgGearAbility readers who live in the UK might want to tune in to London BBC ‘Inside Out’ this Wednesday , October 17, at 7:30 PM. On the schedule is a mini-documentary featuring Trekinetic, makers of a high-tech wheelchair I’ve written about. I’ve no idea what the BBC will say, or how much the K-2 itself will appear, but if you’re at all curious, you might want to take a look.

Once the show has aired, the rest of us can click here to watch it on the Internet. The program will be available for a week after the original air date. This link is to the London ‘Inside Out’ main page; you may have to scout around a bit to find the exact link for this particular episode.

At Home Everyday Gear High Tech

Computing While Reclining

laptop-table.jpgFor people whose computers are almost an extra appendage, time spent in bed can be frustrating and miserable if it means limiting Internet access. Balancing a laptop on a chest or stomach can overheat the machine, and is terrible for hands and wrists.

Laptop Laidback is made for people who prefer to (or must) use laptops while reclining. The table has a broad, stable stance; a ledge holds the laptop in place. Both angle and height are adjustable, and the unit folds flat for storage or transportation.

According to the site, the legs adjust in 5 degree increments — that’s the kind of fine-tuning that can keep wrists and arms happy.

Click on “Product” from the home page for technical information. You’ll need to scroll down to see the full list of specifications.

Thanks, Paul!

High Tech

Robotic Foot Prosthesis

Image of a Robotic Foot ProsthesisResearchers at MIT have developed a robotic ankle-foot prosthesis that allows wearers to walk with a more natural gait. Using springs to mimic the actions of human tendons, the prosthesis represents a major advance in ankle prosthesis technology. Here’s how it works, according to the press release:

The energy produced from the forward motion of the person wearing the prosthesis is stored in the power-assisted spring, and then released as the foot pushes off. Additional mechanical energy is also added to help momentum.

The prosthesis, called PowerFoot One, contains a small, computer-assisted motor which lets the person using it expend 30% less energy than required by conventional prostheses. It’s also lighter in weight and more flexible than current models. MIT expects it to be marked publicly in 2008.

Thanks to medGadget

Read more at MIT News

High Tech

Accessible Google

Image of Google LogoGoogle offers an extensive list of services that users with all different needs — particularly those who cannot see — may find useful. From the Google blog:

We provide a wide variety of services that are mostly accessed with a web browser. People visit Google from a large number of browsers and platforms; in addition, we also understand that every user is special and may have special needs. Accessibility at Google is about making sure that our services work well for all our users — independent of your needs and abilities at any given time.

You can view the complete list here. A certain amount of web expertise may be necessary to use the information, but anyone who hasn’t kept up on Google’s various expansion efforts may be surprised at how much more there is to explore beyond the familiar search engine.

High Tech

A Life-Like, Fully-Articulated Prosthetic Hand

Image of HandsIf ‘fully-functioning’ is the gold standard in prosthetics, then the new i-LIMB prosthetic hand must come awfully close to the platinum standard — form and function taken to new heights. Take a look at the picture above of the i-LIMB and the comesis that covers it. Can you tell which hand is the prosthetic?

Image of iLIMB Bionic Hand

High Tech

Peng Shulin

Image of a Happy Man with a Whole Lower Body ProsthesisThe smile says it all. This man, Peng Shulin, spent 12 years in bed after an encounter with a truck left him with only half a body. Doctors at the China Rehabilitation Research Center in Beijing recently engineered the device Peng wears here so that he could finally ambulate again. Peng undertook extensive physical therapy to strengthen wasted muscles in his arms and trunk once the Center discovered him; he’s now learning to use his new prosthesis using a specially adapted walker.

A UK article calls the legs “bionic”, but it looks as if they may be a bit less complicated than than that; English-language media reports are a bit unclear as to exactly how the prosthesis works. Whatever the actual nature of the device, this is clearly a case where an indomitable will and human ingenuity have resulted in an astonishing reclamation of one man’s life. Kind of makes Heather Mills’ prothesis look like a bit of frippery, doesn’t it?

Via medGadget

High Tech

An Unusual Prosthetic Finger

Image of a Variety of Prothesis for Partial Finger AmputationsThese odd-seeming devices are partial finger prostheses, designed to fit over residual portions of amputated fingers. The mechanisms fit into a silicone casing to mimic natural fingers, and, according to the manufacturer, flex and extend naturally.

There’s no power source — the X-Finger is designed to move in response to activity in the residual finger:

The replaced phalanges will follow the natural bending pattern of a finger. Combined lateral and vertical flexion/extension movements can be independently and immediately restored.

Pretty impressive, what? But there’s more!

The X-Finger will allow the user to regain complete control of the articulation of the device simply by moving their residual finger. Benefits will include typing; playing a musical instrument or anything that requires the full dexterity of a hand.

Image of a Prosthetic Finger on a HandEach is custom made. Didrick Medical, purveyors of this wonderful device, will evaluate each person’s situation without charge, utilizing the charmingly low-tech technique of reviewing a faxed photocopy of the hand in question.

Read more at medGadget

Update 6/3/2007: Image with hand (without cosmetic silicone cover) added

High Tech

Wearable Robotic Suit for Power-Lifting for Caregivers

Image of a Hal-5 Robotic ExoskeletonmedGadget recently posted a brief article about the HAL-5 exoskeleton, a Japanese invention that looks like Matsushita’s robotic arm on steriods (and with a few limbs added). The HAL-5 is also a wearable robotic device, intended particularly to give health care workers greater strength for lifting. There’s a link to an earlier medGadget article, as well as one to the original post at Engadget (English).

There’s a charmingly incoherent Google translation of an Engadget (Japanese) article from last October here, as well.