Misconceptions about Bikes and People with Disability

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On several occasions during events, reading comments from blogs, conversations with friends and strangers, people have this notion that bikes are dangerous to persons with disability. Quite often, the arguments end up discouraging people with disability to keep off and not to join in the fun bike riding events.

For individuals with disabilities, vehicles don’t symbolize freedom and independence; instead, the people choose to make that possible. Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and it is not always that simple.

The people’s disability advocate speaks about different disabilities being social constructs. They relate them partly to real situations like a head injury or missing a limb, more so because of the tools available and the environment. Take for instance, if one is where there is glass and they are moderately nearsighted that is not regarded as a disability.

At the same time, having transport options or having none, plays a significant role in concluding what is and what isn’t disability. For instance, if one lives in a neighborhood with no stores, decent places or sidewalks to walk on and they have a bad knee, then access to vehicles will be a game changer. Fortunately for some, owning a bike can be a good thing which makes life worth living.

Kris Warloe, a teacher of mathematics in Corvallis Ore, almost retiring, has been cycling to work every day since he was 6. When he was 12 years, he lost one of his legs to a crash caused by a drunk driver. After two years, he recovered and went back to his bike and never stopped. At 67 he still rides around 40 miles per week, swims daily, and he skis during winter.

Kris cycles a diamond frame bike without special modifications. He admits facing challenges. Kris said that the hardest part while cycling is when he has to put his artificial leg on the pedal. He went on to say that, one had to keep checking to be sure that the leg was still on the pedal because the prosthetic limb kept slipping off. To avoid that, he would clip the foot to the left pedal. That seemed to work until one day when he was pedaling up the steep hill, a strong wind blew him over, and he tumbled to the left.

Cars are known to cause the highest percentage of physical disabilities to people. Driving is highly connected to physical inactivity. Studies show that it contributes to the US two-third adults being obese or overweight. Those not physically fit are highly susceptible to cancer, diabetes and heart malfunctions. Studies undertaken recently show that 9% of non-fatal injuries were sustained in car crashes. That translates to 286,000 people per year who end up with a permanent disability.

Aging is another factor that revolutionizes one’s way of transportation. The aging reality prevents the old people from driving in this world meant for cars. Come to think of it, old age is looked at as disability by itself, and it can happen so suddenly.

Cyndi Sutter is a survivor of a severe brain injury which was caused by a rare congenital malfunction. Before the injury, Cyndi had been a regular bike rider. After she learned to walk again, she realized her driver’s license had long been canceled, and her two-wheel bicycle did not feel comfortable to ride in Minneapolis.

She had to make a quick decision, in 2006; she bought an upright three-wheeler for adults, fitted with a heavy cargo basket. The trike allows her to move more freely and has even allowed her to attend to her duties self-sufficiently; she also volunteers to carry ample supplies for gigs, and she cycles with her dog around the city’s famed off-road bike trails.

Investing in a bike that works for you makes all the difference. Bicycle manufacturers are embracing adaptive cycling. They are focused on revolutionizing the bike for other persons who have different needs other than just the diamond frame.

Bob Hudecek a seasoned bike rider and an advocate in northeast Ohio, got run over by a vehicle while riding ten years ago. Bob suffered a spinal cord injury which left him some slight feeling and minimal movement from the chest downwards. He confessed that for eight years he did not do much. In 2008, during one of his clinic, he learned about a hand-cycle which is a recumbent three-wheeler bicycle powered by a hand-cranked pedal.

He tried it, and he loved it. Surprising enough, a year ago, Hudecek started to participate in marathons alongside other hand cyclists. On several occasions together with his wife, he travels to various destinations looking for opportunities to participate in races from the Critical Mass to the greenway trails.

Hudecek is excited about hand-cycling. He admits that it has positively changed his life. It has given him and his family something they can do together while they have fun plus the health bit of it.

Kriss Warloe aged 67 from Corvallis responding to an argument with the opinion that promoting bicycling discriminates against people with the disability said, it wasn’t true, and he encouraged people with some disability to step out and challenge themselves to cycling.

Bicycling is not only for the non-disabled, but it is also for the ‘abled-differently’ persons. The surprising bit is not so much that the disabled people can ride bicycles but rather it is the creativity and the resourcefulness they exhibit in picking themselves together by taking charge of their well-being and mobility, even in hostile environments. Cycling is a sure way of defying all odds. Bike on.
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