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Information on Mobility Aids and Ambulation Devices

Disabled World: Revised/Updated: 2018/09/22

Synopsis: An overview of mobility aids for seniors and persons with disabilities including manual and electric wheelchairs and motorized scooters.

Main Document

Reduced mobility is something that many of us do not think twice about, but it is something that millions of people all over the world live with everyday. There are of people in the world who suffer from disabilities on a level that few of us could imagine. With the aging of the baby boomers comes the realization that the growth of people with disabilities will continue to increase year by year.

What is a Mobility Aid or Device?

A mobility aid is a device designed to assist walking or otherwise improve the mobility of people with a mobility impairment.

There are various walking aids which can help people with impaired ability to walk and wheelchairs or mobility scooters for more severe disability or longer journeys which would otherwise be undertaken on foot.

For people who are blind or visually impaired the white cane and guide dog have a long history of use. Other aids can help with mobility or transfer within a building or where there are changes of level.

Mobility Concerns

An elderly woman stands next to a person in a wheelchair near a green grassy field - Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash.
An elderly woman stands next to a person in a wheelchair near a green grassy field - Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash.

Many people with disabilities have a major concern, the mobility issue. Plainly put, 'how are they going to get around'? Through technology there has been the creation of mobility aids like electric wheelchairs, lift vans, and rollators.

Mobility Aids for persons with disabilities and/or health conditions, also called Ambulation devices, are used by people with arthritis, MS, Parkinson's disease, back pain, Cerebral Palsy, and many other physical limiting conditions. Mobility aids help you walk or move from place to place if you are disabled, aged, or have an injury. Mobility aids include items such as walkers, canes, crutches, manual and electric wheelchairs and motorized scooters.

Walking aids are tools designed to assist walking or enable mobility. You may need a walker or cane if you are at risk of falling. Zimmer frames, and wheeled (rolling) walkers or rollators are other devices designed to assist people having difficulty walking.

Elbow crutches can be the most appropriate walking aid for some people, especially for those recovering from an injury. They are usually adjustable to make them more comfortable and offer the right level of support. Crutches may be available in different colors, depending on the model. If you need to keep your body weight off your foot, ankle or knee, you may need crutches. You may need a wheelchair or a scooter if an injury or disease has left you unable to walk.

  • Gait Trainer

    A device to assist walking that has entered the market in recent years is the gait trainer. This is a mobility aid that is more supportive than the standard walker. It typically offers support that assists weight-bearing and balance. The accessories or product parts that attach to the product frame provide un-weighting support and postural alignment to enable walking practice. Mobility aids may also include adaptive technology such as sling lifts or other patient transfer devices that help transfer users between beds and chairs or lift chairs (and other sit-to-stand devices), transfer or convertible chairs. Knee scooters help some users.

  • Stair lifts

    Much more cost effective than an elevator, and easier to install, a stair lift allows a rider to move up and down stairs while seated. These lifts, known as stair lifts, can be installed for a staircase inside or outside the home and give the user back his/her mobility in their home. They can also be installed on a curved staircase. For many, the addition of a stair lift may be all they need to continue living in their home.

  • Lift Chairs

    A lift chair is a very special home lifting aid. They are recliners that lift into the air to make it easier and safer to transfer into and out of the chair. Some can support more than 500 pounds and they come in many different shapes and sizes to accommodate different body types. In addition to providing an electrical lifting mechanism that raises the chair into the air, they also offer motorized back and leg rests, which makes them very comfortable.

Statistics for U.S. Mobility Device Users

  • Just over 6.8 million community-resident Americans use assistive devices to help them with mobility. This group comprises 1.7 million wheelchair or scooter riders and 6.1 million users of other mobility devices, such as canes, crutches, and walkers.
  • More than four-tenths of mobility device users are unable to perform their major activity.
  • Four-fifths of wheelchair users report that their local public transportation system is difficult to use or to get to.
  • Stroke and osteoarthritis are the two most prevalent primary conditions among wheelchair and scooter users.
  • Two-thirds of mobility device users have limitations in one or more of the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL).
  • Nearly all wheelchair users report trouble walking, and more than three-quarters are unable to walk a quarter of a mile.
  • Less than one-fifth of working-age wheelchair and walker users are employed; the employment rate for crutch users is more than twice as high.
  • About half of wheelchair users must use steps to enter or exit their homes. A similar fraction report having difficulty entering or leaving the home.
  • Osteoarthritis is by far the most prevalent condition associated with mobility device use, affecting 1.2 million mobility device users as the primary cause of disability.
  • High levels of mobility device use are observed among African Americans and Native Americans. Asians and Pacific Islanders are the racial group with the lowest device use.
  • Almost one-third of mobility device users need assistance from another person in one or more of the Activities of Daily Living (ADL), compared to less than 1 percent of non-users.
  • Among children who use wheelchairs, almost six-tenths are covered under Medicaid. Among working-age wheelchair users, four-tenths are covered under Medicare and three-tenths under Medicaid.

Further References



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