Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

3D-Printed Exoskeleton Allows Paralysed Woman to “Walk”

Interesting article on CNET about an exoskeleton allowing a woman to walk again. Interesting but misleading. Yes, the use of 3D printing technology is awesome. But this is not "walking". The exoskeleton is holding the person up, and can move them in what LOOKS like walking. But it is more appearance than anything else.

I already wrote about exoskeleton so-called benefits in relation to Rex, another system. In that post, I debunked the idea that you needed to stand to cook or play a game of pool, that you needed to stand in family photos, or needed to be out of your wheelchair to socialise with friends. Frankly, these ideas strike me as ableist thinking.

This 3D-printed system appears better than Rex – it is less bulky and allows for faster ambulation. But you are still carrying a heavy backpack. You require crutches. You can’t take stairs. And you’re not likely to fit in your wheelchair while wearing it. If the goal is to appear or feel less disabled, I think it falls short. Using such a system is not much different from the bracing systems of old, except with increased technology.

And no mention is made of the cost of this system. At US$150,000, the Rex is out of the reach of the vast majority of people. Just like the IBOT wheelchair was. While 3D printing technology is coming down in price, such an exoskeleton will remain unnafordable for most.

I remain firm in my belief that exoskeletons are far from ready for primetime.

That said, that use of 3D printing technology makes me think that it could be used for prosthetics, where it has been notoriously difficult to make properly fitting sockets.