Dan Bricklin's Web Site: www.bricklin.com
Other Segway Essays on this web site include:
Segways and special needs
Email from a disabled person who read my essay about the Segway and is benefiting from buying one.
In my essay "Impressions after riding a Segway HT: Part 2", I wrote: "People with all sorts of disabilities (MS, Parkinson's, knee injuries, etc.) are begging the Segway company for units. They know it will change their lives, restoring some normalcy." This was a very simple statement, and I downplayed uses of the Segway for people with special needs. Whenever someone asked me about the Segway with skepticism, though, I always pointed out its great value to those with special needs, and how that alone should be enough to see its value (the most recent time being at a family event several days ago). An email exchange late last week prompted me to bring it up publicly again.
I've been somewhat careful about discussing the relationship between the Segway and people with disabilities because of wanting to stay away from an area I thought might be sensitive for the company. Medical devices are treated quite differently by regulatory agencies than devices for everyday use by the general population. Also, I didn't know the details of the relationship between Segway and the licensees of the iBot wheelchair technology other than something about wheelchair uses not being licensed to Segway.
Is the Segway a "medical device"? I think not. I'd view a medical device as something specifically designed to deal with a medical or health-related condition, and of at most only tangential applicability to people without that health-related condition.
I think there is another class of device: A device that has general appeal for its designed purpose to the general population, for whom a subset of the population finds that that purpose is especially helpful to their medical condition. For example, walking sticks of all various flavors have always been used by hikers. When I had some back pains last summer, I found that a high-tech aluminum hiking pole, purchased at a sporting goods store, was perfect to help me hike more comfortably, and even get up from a chair with less pain. That same pole is widely purchased by people in great shape, and I find that even without back pain it makes my hiking more sure footed. It's not a medical device, just something that helps even more in its targeted area for someone with a particular disability. Walking aides specifically for people with conditions like polio are not in this class.
The email exchange
Here, in slightly edited form, is the email exchange that prompted me to bring up this topic again. There's much to learn from it, including the difficulty in being "different" in any way in our society, how much technology can help those with special needs, and how being an early adopter can help you socially. It also reminds me of the value of posting our thoughts and experiences on the Internet for others to share. I like to experience new technology and describe it to others on my website. Reading John's emails about how doing what I like to do (and a technology that intrigues me) made a real difference in someone else's life was just so heart warming. Hopefully this post will help others, too, like John, and hopefully things you post on the Internet will bring you joy, too, as his email brought to me.
Thank you for your Segway articles. I am disabled and I don't live near a place where I could test drive a Segway. Your articles on Segway riding were so detailed that I didn't need to go test drive them. After reading your articles, I also read owners' reviews of the device, and that helped a great deal also in my decision once I knew what riding it was like from your articles. Finally, I decided to take the plunge and got one last week. It has been the most freeing and liberating thing since my disability occurred 2 years ago. Before the Segway I could have cared less about good weather outside because my unrestrained freedom was in using the internet and doing things on the computer. Now, after just a few short days of ownership, I am grumpy if I don't get outside and experience nature. If I told all about that aspect, I would write an article as long and detailed as yours! With the Segway, my mind is now engaged in thinking of how I can use it more, which means getting out of my chair at home, which means being more healthy. One thing Segway is excellent for: Fighting deep vein thrombosis, which (if you don't know) is the forming of blood clots deep in the veins, often as a result of prolonged sitting. The clots can cause deadly complications. Disabled people who can walk and stand benefit from any device or activity that gets them wanting to be on their feet.
Let me just say this: I use oxygen as a supplement to my normal breathing, and it is tiresome to get stares from virtually everyone because I am young (in my 30s) and have the canula (plastic tubing) going from my oxygen tank to my nose. People can't help wanting to know what I am wearing on my face, and then I know they keep staring trying to figure out what is wrong with me, and they likely are thinking "I'm so glad that's not me" while they continue to look. Certain places are worse than others for this dark ritual to happen.
Then...Enter the Segway: Now people are not looking at the oxygen because they are looking at the marvel that is Segway! Today I got two loud honks from cars going by (in our otherwise quiet neighborhood!) and they were waving and smiling at me like I was Russell Crowe or some other celebrity, and when I went to our local park I interrupted a football game when the players all stopped to look, cheer, and get me to wave at them! I was not "oxygen man" anymore, but rather "Segway man". Or to put that another way -- it is like going from being the Elephant Man to being Superman. Can you understand, therefore, what the Segway means to me? My father said what I had already thought days before he said it: "It is as if the Segway was especially made for you alone." He said this in recognition of how good it has been for me and how much it helps me. This has been a big, big boost to my ego -- an ego that had decreased when I found out I'd have to wear oxygen when I went anywhere in public, and when I lost my ability to walk fast and to run. I used to run cross country, so you can imagine how being disabled makes me feel. What is more, the Segway allows me to not need oxygen since I'm not exerting myself enough, so if I want to I can just keep my oxygen tubing wrapped around my container at my side. Therefore, when I'm riding it in public, people no longer have to know I'm even disabled! I am 100 times more involved in our neighborhood than I was just two weeks ago before I got my Segway. Anyway, I owe a portion of my happiness in this to you because you wrote that if you ever had an illness that would prevent you from walking or running with your loved ones that you would get a Segway. Plus, your writings explained to me more than anyone possibly could what was like to use a Segway. You were totally accurate.
PS -- Dean Kamen needs to rethink not pushing the Segway as a medical device because it would be immensely helpful if insurance companies would at least partially pay for a Segway for those of us whose disability is greatly alleviated by it. I didn't need a wheelchair, but I did need a Segway. I found your article about why the Segway is not a scooter to be most revealing about this matter. I needed something to replace walking and running, and only the Segway fits the description for safely doing all those. I tried two electric scooters and wasted money on them before this. Kamen wants to change the world with Segway, and Segway has changed my world. Unfortunately, many people in my condition can't pay for a whole Segway like I did.
I wrote back to thank him for his email, and then asked:
Have you tried using it on any old cross-country trails?
Dan, I've not tried that yet, but I live in Memphis, TN and we have what I think is the nation's largest park in a big city, with several lakes and all kinds of trails. It's only a couple of miles from my house. Your suggestion made me think of that place, and I should go there once I get past the battery break-in period. The manual suggests the first five outings be limited to using half of the battery at most, and then charging it each time for 12 hours or more -- so that has limited me in terms of distance. After the first five runs it said I can then use it normally. I can't wait! I will then do exactly what you said -- hit the cross country trails!
I have Pulmonary Hypertension, which is high blood pressure of the lungs only, and it is genetic in my case. There are probably about 4 in a million people who have it. It is terminal and progressive in nature, so at present time slowing it down is the best outcome. So far it isn't physically painful, but just uncomfortable in my daily routines. There is amazing research being done in Canada with stem cells harvested through bone marrow that has actually grown in 3 weeks time new blood vessels in the lungs of rats with pulmonary hypertension. I might just make it long enough for such a treatment!
Human trials start any month now. If I am cured then I will take up running and tennis again as my very first thing. Until then, I have the Segway which has restored a great sense of hope and meaning in my life. Really, this is huge for me.
Again I want to thank you even though I just did last email, because when I discovered your article "Why the Segway is not a Scooter", I realized that that was exactly the information I was looking for. No telling how many people have purchased a Segway because of reading your article. What impressed me most about what you wrote is that you are a very busy man and you could have said to yourself, "I don't have time to write something like this. Someone else will do it if I don't."
Thanks for the extra info. Would you mind if I put some of what you wrote in my weblog?
I would be honored for you to share the content of my emails on your weblog and/or to Segway company. It would be a joy to me if by chance someone could benefit from anything that I wrote, or from any of my experiences. I seem to be an evangelist in many areas of my life where I find things or ways of doing things that help me to a great extent, and I always love to share those ideas with other people. The Segway has rapidly become one of those things. Although the Segway's not for everyone, the thought of someone who could benefit from one to not at least know what they are missing out on saddens me. And to think that I considered a Segway a YEAR ago to help me with my illness, but waited until now to get one! I wish I had it a year ago. I had the money to get one a year ago, but wasn't convinced it was worth it.
I had planned to keep this reply short, but today was perhaps the most amazing day of my Segway adventures so far. I used more of the battery on it and was outside from 5PM to 7:15PM solid. That's more time outside than I've had probably in the last year, and it was really a pretty big amount of exercise for me (the balancing and pushing/pulling/shifting) as a disabled person. Right this minute I feel like I used to a few hours after I'd mow the lawn -- relaxed, tired in a good way from exercise, and peaceful. I've had the Segway just one week today, and I can officially say as of now that it has changed my life. I'm objective enough to know it wouldn't do that for everyone, because the price and use is such that I believe that it needs to replace an action for it to have that sort of effect. For those who could use it instead of a car, then it would possibly change their lives. For someone like me who can't walk fast, can't run, can't ride a bike, it is a gift from God. I have to repeat what my dad said to me -- "It's as if the Segway were designed specifically for you, personally." Incidentally, today I had conversations with 16 people in the greater neighborhood area, and it was due to the Segway. That's more people than I've talked to in the 3 years I've lived there, and they were really nice people. The value of the Segway for me keeps escalating day by day. There HAVE to be more people like me who would have the same experience, even though I know that wouldn't be everyone's experience.
Oh, one more experience: I have a rather steep front yard that is also large. Before my illness and right after we bought the house I quickly realized I needed a riding lawn mower to cut my yard quickly. I got a high-quality mower with a good Kohler engine, but even it would "complain" sometimes as I went up the hill. I mostly worked my way up the hill side-to-side instead of going straight up at the steepest point. So, at the end of my riding today I decided that I was mastering the Segway enough to give it a good test, and I went up the steepest part of the grass hill. The Segway sailed up that hill! I was so impressed that it had that power! But it's not just the power that impressed me, but the security I felt as the Segway was "surefooted" while going up. I got the "i" model because I didn't want anything underpowered since I'm disabled, but, really, I'm sure the "p" model would be just fine for me. For a heart and lung patient to have that much mobility -- stable mobility -- at his beck and call is profoundly liberating.
Again, I would truly love for you to share about my experience with the Segway. I would also love if you would send something to Segway company. I just wish I could thank Dean Kamen myself, just like I thanked you, but I've not run across a weblog of his and have no idea how to contact him. If you sent something to Segway then they would take note of it.
I can't go into detail or I'll be writing a book here, but as a Mac user the Segway seems very familiar to me overall in so many of the same ways that the Mac does. It's kind of spooky that way. I would love to know what Steve Jobs thinks of the smiley profile face of the Segway that looks so much like the Mac smiley face (but there are many more familiar things than just that).
- Dan Bricklin, 12 April 2004
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