Electricity to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities

Sign up to receive daily news updates from CleanTechnica via email. Or follow us on Google News!

Cars, trucks, and motorcycles replaced horses and carts and oxen, carts, and horses when the internal combustion engine (ICE) arrived more than 100 years ago. Electric vehicles appeared briefly early on, but battery technology was not sufficient to compete with ICE vehicles. The electric motor has superior performance over an ICE due to its 90% efficiency, superior torque characteristics, and almost complete lack of emissions. This is illustrated in the design of a railway diesel engine. They are actually diesel and electric. Only diesel is used to generate electricity, and electric traction motors move the wheels. If you are pulling a one-mile train where each car is fully loaded with coal, this is the only way to go. 100 years later, battery technology has advanced to the point where the superior performance and reliability of electric motors is now being applied to cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc. We also have the motivation that all the driving force must be electric if we want to clean the car. air in our cities and mitigate further global warming.

Except for lightly traveled rural lines in Europe and China, all passenger trains (urban and intercity) and freight trains are electric-powered. Electricity is delivered via overhead pantograph cables. There are only a few intercity electric railways in the United States. In the United States, light electric passenger trains (street cars) were common in medium and large cities until General Motors and oil companies discontinued them in the 1950s. Some heavy electric rail, overground light rail, and subway lines still exist or are returning in the United States.

Lithium-ion battery technology has also made electric bicycles practical. E-bikes have replaced human-powered bicycles only at an incredible rate over the past 10 years. I recently read that there are now 250 million e-bikes in China. The advantages of e-bikes for transportation and fun are incredible.

What does this advance in battery technology and innovation mean for people with disabilities?

Electrification of the disabled

For people with disabilities, we are often less concerned with global warming and pollution than with enabling activities and improving quality of life. Electric wheelchairs have been popular with disabled people for many years (see Figure 1). A lead acid battery is well suited for these heavy chairs needed to propel the user only short distances. These great looking electric wheelchairs can be precisely operated even by a disabled person using minimal function of only one hand.

Figure 1: A friend in an electric wheelchair. Rhinelander, Wisconsin. April 21, 2024. Photo by Debbie J.

What if a disabled person needs help but wants to do some of the payments themselves? Just like e-bikes, electric-assisted wheelchairs have been revolutionized, as shown in Figure 2. Electric-assisted wheelchairs greatly increase the self-transportation range of wheelchairs.

Figure 2: Yamaha electric wheelchair. Courtesy of Yamaha Corporation

What if a disabled person wants to join able-bodied bikers on bike paths and city streets and roads where they travel lightly?

Recently, I’ve been doing about 20 miles of e-bike riding on the Murdock Canal Bike Trail that runs past my backyard in Utah. The trail runs 17 miles from Highland through Lehi, American Fork, Cedar Hills, Pleasant Grove, Lyndon (right next to my backyard), and Orem to Provo, Utah. It is connected at one end to the Jordan River Parkway, which extends 30 miles all the way to downtown Salt Lake City. On the other end, it connects with the Provo River Parkway, which runs 15 miles from Utah Lake through Provo and up Provo Canyon past Bridal Veil Falls to Vivian Park, then another 4 miles up South Fork Canyon. Bottom line: You can do some intense riding for fun or transportation on the Murdock Canal Bike Trail.

When I arrived in Lehi, I met a “young lady” riding a cool looking machine (see Figure 3). She told me it was produced by Not a Wheelchair Inc. The next day, I stopped by Not a Wheelchair Inc.’s headquarters in Orem, Utah, near my home, to chat with the director. They gave me permission to use any images from their website and gave me some additional details about their products. You see their machines in Figure 3 and in the snow in Figure 4. The simple drive unit of one of these machines is illustrated in Figure 5. You can see the suspension system as well. At $6,999, it’s relatively inexpensive (the same price as my full-suspension mountain bike). It has full suspension, manual disc brakes, two-wheel front steering, and a large battery. It has a top speed of 12 mph, and a range of 10 to 20 miles on one battery and 25 to 35 miles on one battery depending on terrain, rider weight, and cargo weight. It would find itself at home on any paved bike path or even on a relatively smooth gravel road or in the snow, as shown in Figure 4. The wheelchair does not engage the four-wheel drive unit in the axle to achieve a true stop-road ride. They also make a kids version and are selling it for about $1,300 right now due to a supporter’s donation.

Figure 3: A disabled person. Not a wheelchair. Murdock Canal Bike Trail in Lehi, Utah. April 20, 2024. Photo by Fritz Hassler.
Figure 4: Not a wheelchair. Courtesy of Not a Wheelchair.
Figure 9: Drive and suspension unit. Not a wheelchair. Orem, Utah. April 23, 2024. Photo by Fritz Hassler.

What else can a disabled person do to get around or exercise outside? If they are very old or have poor balance but their legs are functional, they can use a recumbent e-trike as shown in Figure 6. For those with non-functional legs, there are models that are operated by your arms. With electric assistance, both types can easily power you up moderate hills and over very long distances on flat terrain.

Figure 6: Recumbent e-bike. Lyndon, Utah. April 25, 2023. Photo by Fritz Hassler.

I’ve had little contact with wheelchairs, most intimately when I fractured my pelvis in 2017 while wakeboarding, I wasn’t allowed to put any weight on my legs for 8 weeks. At the time, a wheelchair was my only means of getting around the house and short distances outside (see Figure 7). We built ramps to the porch and down the front stairs so I could easily get myself out to the car. You see disabled and injured people in wheelchairs like this in airports all the time. For most people, it’s better to be paid by someone else. The American Disabilities Act has provided easy wheelchair access to sidewalk intersections and buildings and has been a tremendous boon to the disabled.

Figure 7: The author and his friend board a pontoon boat. (Three lakes in Wisconsin). September 6, 2017. Photo by Mary Hassler.

However, wheelchair-bound athletes often propel themselves using the outer ring on the wheelchair (see Figure 8). You’ve probably heard of wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, and wheelchair racing. In Figure 8, we see several members of the Canadian team for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in wheelchairs. You may have the same question I had. Wheelchairs at the Winter Olympics? It turns out that there is a wheelchair curling event at the Winter Olympics. This was the regular Olympics, not the Paralympics.

Figure 8: The Canadian Olympic team at the opening ceremonies. The Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City at Rice-Eccles Stadium. February 6, 2002. Photo by Fritz Hassler.

I recently witnessed a disabled employee at the Harmon grocery store near my house retrieving shopping carts in a wheelchair. It was very efficient moving 5 or 6 shopping carts at a time.

What about off-road transportation for the disabled. If you do a Google search for electric wheelchairs, you’ll find a whole section on off-road wheelchairs, usually using tractor treads. However, they are difficult to transport and very expensive.

Overall, what we can see is that the decline in lithium battery costs continues to affect more industries, enabling more activities – in this case, for the disabled.

Do you have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Latest CleanTechnica.TV videos


CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *