We mustn’t let the iBot follow Concorde onto the scrapheap
When it turns transformer-like from a standard wheelchair into a machine on two wheels at standing level, or when it climbs an unexpected flight of stairs in a friend’s home, most people begin to see the benefits to wheelchair users that such technology can bring.
I am lucky enough to own an iBot. I can’t get round the supermarket when I’m up on two wheels, because I am constantly besieged by questions from the fascinated and the curious.
It is an absolute tragedy that this miracle piece of human ingenuity is in danger of going the same way as Concorde. Consigned by bean counter accountants to the scrapheap of “great advances for humanity that were never given the chance to live”.
For those of you who haven’t been following the story, the makers of the iBot have been forced to cease production because insurance cover for it was unexpectedly withdrawn, making the iBot economically unviable.
We need to save the iBot for several reasons.
Firstly, as I said, it encourages human interaction, by operating at eye level. People are inquisitive and want to know more. Unfortunately, wheelchair users rarely have equal relationships with their counterparts. In the iBot, wheeling down the food aisles, they do.
Secondly, being up on two wheels adds personality to wheelchair users. Some people occasionally don’t see the wheelchair user. Instead, they just see the chair. The iBot, on two wheels, is dramatic. It adds drama that gives character to the user.
Thirdly, I’ve always found my iBot to be an icebreaker. It actually stimulates questions, even from the timid. People aren’t familiar with the technology. It doesn’t make sense, and they want to know more. As a result, some people start up conversations with iBot owners, when they would normally avoid talking to wheelchair users at all costs.
Fourthly, the iBot’s stair-climbing ability means that some people don’t have to leave their homes. Losing the ability to walk is challenging enough. The knock-on effect of that is seldom seen and often more devastating. Most wheelchair users are faced with leaving their homes if those homes have stairs. An iBot user doesn’t have to.
Finally, everything the iBot does allows its owner to get so much more out of life. Sadly, the productivity of many wheelchair users plummets once they find themselves unable to walk. And nowadays, because of war, we are seeing more young people with horrific injuries survive rather than die. Are we to confine them to the dust heap of an inactive and unproductive life, with years stretching ahead of them?