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The rolling walker obstacle

What makes the rolling walker unsafe to use

Photo of Rodney Lobo

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In the early 1950s, the first walker was patented. Today we have so many variations of the walker. But how safe are they?

I used a rolling walker for 6 hours on Saturday, 26th of February 2017. I used it while I was doing many different things including, waking on streets while carrying my bag, going inside the subway, entering the 'Q' train, exiting the subway, walking back to my home, and storing it. 

These are the obstacles I had to face while using the rolling walker:

Inside De'Kalb avenue station and then the 'Q' Train:

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  • Can’t take inside the subway without elevators or accessible stations (I felt helpless, I had to stop using the walker and fold it and walk down, as I did not have any other option but to use the Q train)
  • I got stuck between the Q train doors and had to struggle to go inside (I was very scared, this is the first time I was stuck between train doors, no one helped me)
  • Very little space to hold the walker because of the crowd (people were glaring at me, it was quite uncomfortable)
  • Unstable inside the moving train. When the train moved forward, the walker moved in the opposite direction. When the train stopped, the walker moved towards the front (It was difficult to hold, but I had no other choice, as I was standing)
  • Difficult to hold on to the walker because train was shaking
  • People kept pushing the walker (accidentally), (I was sad that so many people have to go through this everyday)


Getting down at Avenue H station:

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  • The emergency exit door is electromagnetic, but still needs a push to open (it closes automatically, I had to push the door, and move inside, while the walker was in front of me)
  •  This station has an accessible stop only towards the Coney Island-Stillwell avenue side, which is, unfortunately, a ramp. The walker slid down, but I had to stop it (if I had a mobility issue, I definitely would have fallen)


On the streets:

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  • It was raining, walker got wet, handles became slippery and difficult to grasp
  • Road had muddy water, walker became dirty
  • The street corners had water stagnant, had to use walker because there was no other option to push the walker towards the sidewalk, same goes while going down from sidewalk to the street (I haven’t tested the walker without wheels, but the main difference is that the one with wheels needs a push to move forward, but the one without wheels have to be lifted to move forward, so it will require additional strength)
  • Some places had running water, and that made it uncomfortable and off-putting to use the rolling walker
  • The sidewalk was uneven, rolling walker strayed away at times


At home:

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  • Had to climb one floor of stairs to reach my room while wearing my backpack
  • The hallway is very narrow (I had my backpack, it was quite heavy as I carry my laptop and books and other things i need to use when I go to school)
  •     Difficult to move around with bags


If a young person such as myself had to go through this turmoil, and only within a span of about 6 hours, I cannot imagine what the millions of elderly people, who use this atrocity of a device everyday, have to go through!

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Those 6 hours were very difficult for me. Many times, it was embarrassing because people were looking at me in an odd manner. I think that they might be wondering why I was using a device meant to be used by old people. Some times, I had to deliberately look away or at the ground to avoid eye contact. It was a little shameful.

Using the rolling walker in the subway and during the rain was very frustrating. My house is only 2 blocks from the subway station -- usually it takes me 2 to 3 minutes to reach home-- it took me almost 15 minutes to get back home, and the rain added to the annoyance. I carry a messenger bag to school, and I have my books and my laptop in it, and this can be quite heavy. Since the walker was only adjustable to a certain height, I had to hunch while using it, and my back began to hurt. This is one of the main reasons why I did not continue beyond 6 hours (initially, the plan was to use the rolling walker for an entire day). 

I understand that people who use such devices, do not normally use them in subways, or during the rain (my project mentor, who happens to be a Physical Therapist, told me about this). 
But what if there is no choice but to use them? There is a very good chance that people will fall and injure themselves.

This rolling walker is not mine. It was difficult to take photos at times, because I had to back off a little. I was worried that it might stray away, especially in the train, or while on the corner of the streets.


The most challenging and stressful part of this task was the journey in the subway. Since I was caught in between the doors, while holding the walker. Inside the train was also quite stressful, as I was constantly worried if the walker would bump into someone, or if it would slip away from my hand. Fortunately it did not do either of those things.

However, some people (probably accidentally) pushed the walker while getting inside or walking outside the train. It was a little sad to see that they simply kept walking. I don't know if something like this happens to the seniors as well, because I feel that it is rude.



What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Living in an age of advanced technology, we are forcing our elderly to use outdated and unsafe devices in the hopes of them keeping their balance while they are moving. Clearly, we have not been paying attention to what needs to be done, and instead we have become victims of corporate world. When we grow old, we will have to use such devices, unless we act now and build something better.

Tell us about your work experience:

Student of New York University (Industrial Engineering), passionate about Human Centered Design, Design for America of NYU member; working with a team to build a new assistive device for the elderly.

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Photo of Devendra Natekar

This is awesome empathy work. I just posted on how we can use aesthetic and integrated exoskeletons to support "normal" gait and walking and prevent falls without resorting to walkers and other support systems that don't work outside (and sometimes even inside) homes

This empathy work is absolutely spot on

Photo of Rodney Lobo

Thank you Devendra Natekar 

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