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We should design a more clever wheelchair

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Further to your editorial in aj 22.7.99, one answer I would suggest, inspired by a recent Australian initiative, is to put all the expenditure on adapting the world's buildings to the wheelchair into inventing the ultimate 'clever wheelchair' or total mobility vehicle. It would be a very lightweight unit acting like an extension of the body, that would climb stairs, step over obstacles and generally make disabled people equal to the able-bodied. It is quite possible, as the Australian inventors have demonstrated, and one extra advantage is that it places the user at full normal height, enabling equal basic eye-to-eye contact.

Clearly if the likes of Ford or Toyota researched and manufactured this worldwide, the cost would compare very favourably with that of all the world's buildings having extra-sized wcs, ramps, special fire routes etc. In the medium term a clever mobility unit would compare very favourably in cost terms and give much greater freedom to the user.

The real answer, as in all equal-rights issues, is not to handicap all the buildings for all users, which has horrendous effects on historic buildings, public squares and open spaces, as well as additional complex solutions for all new buildings. Rather, the answer is to strive to achieve the fullest opportunities for all people to achieve the best possible movement experience in our buildings.

Terry Farrell, London NW8

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