MSNBC is carrying a Reuters article, Insult to injury: More kids hurt by own crutches, about injuries to young people “related to the use of crutches, wheelchairs and walkers”. Apparently, these injuries are “on the rise”, with significant numbers of USAn emergency room attendances related to injuries sustained while using a mobility aid.
Note, firstly, that there is no formal E.R. category nor any panic about injuries related to the use of legs, despite this being a rather large category of actual injuries.
Note, secondly, that journalists reporting on this study make no attempt to interrogate the root cause of the injuries, preferring to attributing the injuries to the use of the device itself, despite this:
[…] three out of four times, the injury was caused by tipping of the device or falling as the result of coming upon some sort of obstacle such as stairs, a curb, a ramp, rough ground, or icy, wet conditions.
Why are these injuries being attributed to use of the mobility aid, instead of to poor, inaccessible design? Why are kids falling trying to navigate stairs when there should be ramps and elevators available? Why are kids falling on curbs when there should be curb cuts? Were these injuries on rough ground and ice preventable by salting, pathways, cover? 70% of the injuries occurred while children were using wheelchairs. How many were occasioned while these children were trying to negotiate inaccessible environments?
We have no idea. Because no-one, apparently, has bothered to ask. Nor has any mention of inaccessibility been considered worth reporting or putting in the press release.
Instead, we get headlines like “Crutches, wheelchairs can cause injuries” and “Injuries can be caused by crutches, wheelchairs“.
The authors of the Pediatrics study themselves chose to title their journal article “Pediatric Mobility Aid–Related Injuries Treated in US Emergency Departments From 1991 to 2008“, and there is no mention of universal design or accessibility in their abstract.
In contrast, there are plenty of comments throughout the study of the issue of the supposed “misuse” of mobility aids, despite this accounting for only seven percent of injuries.
There is a mention of accessibility in the full-text article, buried deep in the discussion, but this never made it to anything that will be read by the general population, or indeed most of the medical profession. Furthermore, the mention of accessibility only talks about in-home modification – completely failing to address the number of injuries that occurred on curbs, rough ground, and icy conditions.
This is what the authors had to say about accessibility:
Curbs, stairs, rough terrain, and steep inclines and declines were common trigger factors for falls and other injuries, leading us to speculate that lack of accessibility, particularly in the home, may be 1 factor contributing to mobility aid–related injury. For children who were using mobility aids on a temporary basis, particularly crutches, home modification and avoiding stairs may not have been considered.
Mobility-impaired children should consider “avoiding stairs”! This is not just ignoring accessibility; it’s a giant slap in the face. Do the authors seriously think that it hasn’t occurred to anyone with a mobility impairment to try to avoid stairs? Really? We’d love to. That would be fabulous, thanks. However, we have lives. Lives in inaccessible environments, where we sometimes are left with the choice to take stairs or not go. To school and university, to work, to doctor’s appointments, to public transport, to artistic and political events, to social gatherings. Mobility-impaired people don’t take stairs and curbs out of choice; we do it because there’s no accessible alternative provided. And what happens to PWD who can’t take stairs no matter what? Confinement. Yes, PWD aren’t “confined” by wheelchairs; PWD are confined by discrimination, thoughtlessness, and inaccessibility.
Instead of using their platform to publicise an unequivocal call for safer public design, the authors choose to focus in their abstract and press release about how they think “additional research” is needed. The need for further research is, indeed, their ONLY conclusion! But if this research focuses on device malfunctions and children’s competence, “misuse” of mobility aids and custom in-home modifications, it is destined to fail.
If there is to be additional research, a broad, societal view must not be so studiously ignored. However, do we really need more and more and more research to tell us that kids with mobility aids have trouble negotiating stairs, have trouble getting up curbs, have trouble on icy ground? More research to tell us, five or ten or twenty years of inaction down the track, that PWD of all ages are endangered by inaccessible environments?
Without recognition of the systemic causes of a problem, there can be no successful systemic solutions. How much “additional research” is needed before there is action? How many inquiries? How many reports? How many white papers? We need to stop looking at the trees, and look at the forest.
The solution is to inaccessibility is accessibility. The first-tier principles of mobility accessibility are straightforward and long-established. Get on with it.
[Hat tip to Andrea of the Manor of Mixed Blessings]
 Pediatric Mobility Aid?Related Injuries Treated in US Emergency Departments From 1991 to 2008
Alison M. Barnard, Nicolas G. Nelson, Huiyun Xiang and Lara B. McKenzie
Pediatrics published online May 24, 2010;