The origins and early developments of special/adaptive wheelchair seating

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • B. Woods
  • N. Watson


Publication details

JournalSocial History of Medicine
DatePublished - Dec 2005
Issue number3
Number of pages15
Pages (from-to)459-474
Original languageEnglish


The design and use of wheelchairs significantly changed during the last half of the twentieth century, enabling greater mobility, independence, and social inclusion for the user. Among many innovations was the development of special or adaptive seating. Emerging in the last quarter of the century from a multifaceted and multidirectional movement, special or adaptive seating transformed wheelchairs from simple mobility tools into postural aids. They afforded the possibility for people with learning disabilities and/or severe physical impairments to leave the confines of institutional life and access the wider community. This article explores the social and technical processes involved in the rise and formation of this movement and resulting technology. We chart early developments in special seating and show how the wheelchair developed, both as a response to and as a catalyst of social change.

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