accessibility · aging · disability · fitness · health · traveling

Wall-E, chosen immobility, and home elevators

I was struck today reading in the Globe and Mail about the rapid growth in personal elevators by the extent to which we’re gradually removing all possibility of physical activity from our daily lives.

And yet, it’s terrific that more homes are accessible to the elderly and the disabled.

The challenge is once elevators are installed not using them unless you need to. And that seems impossibly hard.

I think about the moving sidewalks and gate to gate trams in modern airports. They make travel possible for people for whom otherwise it would be too much. Still most people who use them seem perfectly capable of walking.

I’ve had similar thoughts about the remoteness of some of Canada’s national parks. After two days of canoeing and portaging, I was struck by how beautiful Algonquin park is. And yet only the physically fit can see it. I thought it would be lovely to make parts of it accessible to those in wheel chairs. And yet how to keep the physically capable but lazy away from whatever accessibility method we use?

Read about the rise in home elevators here here.

One of the first comments on the Globe article is this: “And the endless quest for a completely sedentary lifestyle continues…”

That’s exactly my worry.

I thought of the movie Wall-E and the future, movement free humans….

Read here:

“WALL-E indeed seems to be making a statement about fitness and the obesity crisis. “It shows a future in which mankind literally spends all day on a giant starship moving around in floating chairs, drinking liquified food from Big-Gulp-esque cups, and forever surfing (and chatting) on chair-mounted video screens,” says the source.

A section of the film reveals the history of mankind’s fall into sloth and fat: “There’s an amazing sequence where the camera pans over portraits of the previous captains of the ship — and we watch as they slowly devolve into amorphous blobs with each successive generation. Will the lethargic humans re-awaken to their possibilities as people? I hate spoilers: you’ll have to see the movie to find out!”

7 thoughts on “Wall-E, chosen immobility, and home elevators

  1. Wait a minute — are you implying that all of the able-walkers on moving walkways in airports are “physically capable but lazy”? What if they provide a lower-impact walk for all of us than the concrete floors do, and what if the travelers have been traveling all day?

    I realize, this isn’t the point of your post. But sometimes accessibility is good for everybody.

    1. Or what if, like yesterday, someone is in a big, big hurry to make a connection and the moving sidewalks help her get to the next terminal and find her gate more quickly. Stand right, RUN left!

      1. Sure to both of you. Other good reasons to use them. But like lots of things that are convenient and necessary sometimes, like cars, it seems we then use them habitually, even when the reasons don’t apply.

      2. True enough. I don’t use them when I’m not in a big hurry because I like the long walks that airports allow. As you said in your post the other day, we sit so much during air travel that the airport walking is a good way to break that up. I’m glad you got me thinking about that more consciously. Thanks.

  2. My father has been camping in the interior of Algonquin multiple times since losing the ability to walk. He’s done it both by leaving his wheelchair behind at the car and dragging himself around the campsite on his backside, and by going in with physically strong friends who were able to carry his extra equipment for him. Where there’s a will, there is often a way.

    The park could easily make the first couple of lakes more accessible for people with mobility impairments by:

    * building wooden paths across the first portages (which, let’s face it, are already short and easy and therefore well-travelled and not exactly “wild”)
    * enhancing the docks at these portages with a railing system to assist campers who are able to lift themselves into and out of their canoes
    * installing a hand-crank sling lift at these docks for those who cannot do their own transfers. (Bring Your Own Sling. Many people who require this type of assistance will already own one, but the Portage Store could rent them out the same as any other equipment.)
    * choosing a couple of campsites on the early lakes with shallow grade access and enhancing them in a similar fashion, including a system to assist transfers at the box toilets

    The accessible camp sites could be marked as such and reserved for handicapped campers just as we reserve special spots in parking lots. (Though I would perhaps require reservation of a specific spot in advance. You don’t want to do all of that work to get into the park and then find you’ve nowhere to sleep.)

    The early lakes are regularly patrolled by park rangers anyway, so it wouldn’t be too difficult to enforce handicapped-only use of the special camp sites, and the modifications to the portages wouldn’t help anyone to be lazy as these modifications are really only useful to the people who need them.

    As for escalators and moving sidewalks, I’m with Tracy: Stand on the right, people!

    Installing elevators does not remove the possibility of physical activity from our daily lives. Failing to install stairways which are accessible from the lobbies of buildings does.

    When I have access to stairs, I use them. Sadly, in a lot of public spaces, the stairs are either locked on the lobby level, don’t exit onto the lobby at all, or are poorly-maintained and located in sketchy, out-of-the-way corners of buildings where I don’t always feel safe traversing them alone.

    Handicapped-accessible and physically-active options can easily exist side by side. When they don’t, it’s a problem. When they do, people need to take responsibility for their own choices. (The only options for engineering society in such a way as to prevent people from making unhealthy choices are pretty ugly.)

    1. Excellent points. Thanks! Some social engineering of choices seems not ugly to me. I like Cass Sunstein’s book, Nudge. Worth reading. Here’s an easy example of the nudge principle at work: In a cafeteria put veggies and fruits first in the line you go through with your tray. People fill their plates with those and then have less room for the junkier options. A simple design like the order of food can have a pretty big effect on our choices.

      Also, there’s the ‘fun’ idea, My favorite is the piano stairs.


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