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Cycling for the Disabled

Authors: Glen Norcliffe*, York University, Ron Buliung, University of Toronto, John Radford, York University, Toronto
Topics: Disabilities, Applied Geography, Transportation Geography
Keywords: disability, impairment, cycles, technology,
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The conceptualization of disability has evolved considerably during the period since the first recorded tricycle was invented by a paraplegic clock maker in the mid-seventeenth century. During the same period, bicycle technology has also evolved, mainly for reasons unconnected to disability but sometimes in response to the desire for persons with disability to cycle. Some of the technologies developed were new, but more were adaptations of existing technologies. Today bicycles, tricycles, quadricycles, wheelchairs and related wheeled vehicles (collectively referred to here as cycles) that assist mobility, can find use in various therapies, promote exercise and facilitate independence in the daily lives of persons with disabilities. A growing number of specialized and customized products, beyond cycles, have been developed in a way that fits with a conceptualization of disability that does not treat it as an individual state or impairment, but instead places the production of disability within the environment around us.
This paper describes, and where possible, interprets, the genealogy of cycles that are used in diverse ways by people with disabilities. First, we summarize some of the more common contemporary approaches to theorizing disability, stressing its social construction. Second, we review the range of cycle technologies used by persons with disabilities. And third, case studies of cycle technologies designed by or for persons with specific disabilities are explored, giving consideration both to the role of disabled users in the development of technologies, and of producers in modifying existing technologies for persons with disability.

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