A sociotechnical history of the ultralightweight wheelchair: a vehicle of social change

Stewart, H. and Watson, N. (2020) A sociotechnical history of the ultralightweight wheelchair: a vehicle of social change. Science, Technology and Human Values, 45(6), pp. 1195-1219. (doi: 10.1177/0162243919892558)

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The emergence of the ultralightweight wheelchair has transformed the lives of millions of disa-bled people. It has radically changed the principles and practices of wheelchair design, manufac-ture and prescription and redefined wheelchair users and wheelchair use. Designed and built largely by wheelchair users themselves it was driven initially by a desire to improve sport perfor-mance and later by a wish for improved access to the community and built environment. In this paper we draw on oral histories and documentary sources to reconstruct its socio-technical histo-ry. We employ the analytical concept of ‘boundary object’ to illuminate how the wheelchair as a technological artefact is implicated in relations of social change and show the role of wheelchair users in the development and emergence of the ultra-lightweight wheelchair. We highlight the tensions and negotiations within this history and the push and pull between different social groups. The emergence of the ultra-lightweight wheelchair helped to reconfigure ideas about wheelchairs and their users and allowed wheelchairs to gain a foothold within broader social and technological infrastructures. What makes this account powerful is that this is a success story for a group who have historically been excluded from design processes.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Stewart, Dr Hilary and Watson, Professor Nicholas
Authors: Stewart, H., and Watson, N.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > Social Scientists working in Health and Wellbeing
College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Urban Studies
Journal Name:Science, Technology and Human Values
Publisher:SAGE Publications
ISSN (Online):1552-8251
Published Online:06 December 2019
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 The Authors
First Published:First published in Science, Technology and Human Values 45(6):1195-1219
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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