This Is Plastics: Plastics Provide Mobility and Autonomy for Individuals with Disabilities


Plastics Provide Mobility and Autonomy for Individuals with Disabilities

Learn how plastics are essential to mobility aids and safety mechanisms that promote an independent lifestyle for individuals with disabilities.


Modern scientific advances have allowed for new ways to utilize plastics to enhance mobility. Plastics provide a durable, lightweight and comfortable solution for common mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes and prostheses. With these new advances, individuals with disabilities can both increase mobility in their daily life and achieve new athletic milestones.

Plastics are essential for modern prostheses

While the use of protheses can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, modern innovations with plastics have made prosthetic limbs more durable, comfortable and lighter than before. Plastics are lightweight and flexible, allowing prosthetics to move more similarly to natural arms and legs. Prosthetics are custom made to fit comfortably using plastics like acrylic resins, carbon fibers, thermoplastics and silicone for comfort and “lifelike” feel. With innovative techniques like 3-D printing, plastics make for greater customization of prosthetic limbs created with hard plastics that can withstand strenuous activity and heavy weight.

Along with an improved quality of life, plastics in prostheses have allowed individuals to reach new milestones in sports. Veteran, amputee and Paralympian John Register used a flexible, strong and lightweight carbon-fiber prosthetic to break the American record and win a silver medal in the long jump in the 2000 Paralympic Games. In 2022, Jacky Hunt-Broersma set a Guinness World Record when she ran 104 marathons in 104 days while using a carbon fiber prosthesis, breaking the previous record of 102 consecutive marathons, which was set by a nondisabled runner in 2020. Prostheses are no longer limiting mobility and preventing athletes from competing. Instead, they are enhancing quality of life and enabling record-breaking achievements.

Plastics play a key role in mobility aids

Wheelchairs, canes and even service dogs all use plastics to help people with disabilities move more comfortably and freely. The invention of the wheelchair dates back to Ancient China and Ancient Greece, but plastics have enabled modern advances that ensure wheelchairs promote a better quality of life for those who use them. For comfort and durability, the seat of the wheelchair is now often made with vinyl or nylon, making it comfortable to sit in for long periods of time. Plastics are also used in electric wheelchairs to provide durable and low-maintenance electric casings and bearings, ensuring safety while enhancing mobility for users. Innovations with plastics have also allowed for the growth of wheelchair basketball, a modified version of the sport for athletes who are otherwise not able to participate in a non-disabled sport. This requires special wheelchairs that are lightweight and aerodynamic that are often reinforced with straps made from Kevlar, a synthetic fiber that can withstand impacts in this fast-paced sport.

Plastics also help individuals maintain balance and increase mobility with canes and walkers. Canes are the most widely used mobility device and come in different variations to help people with disabilities walk comfortably and regain independence. Strong plastics, such as carbon fiber and polycarbonate, help withstand pressure and ensure that users can safely lean on them for support. Similarly, walkers use plastics in their soft foam handles for comfort. Walkers and canes use plastics to provide comfort and durability to mobility aids, ensuring all users can continue to maintain a high quality of life.

Additionally, service animals can enhance mobility for individuals with disabilities through accessories made from plastics. Harnesses are often made with durable nylon to be long-lasting and remain intact under tension. Plastics ensure that the harness is strong, lightweight and comfortable for the service animal, preventing injury while enabling mobility and independence for people with disabilities. As an added benefit, harnesses coated with plastic polymers like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are waterproof and non-porous, repelling bacteria and other germs to keep animals and owners safe. Mobility aids can range from wheelchairs to accessories for service animals and all use plastics to ensure that people with disabilities can continue doing what they enjoy and lead active lifestyles.

Plastics are utilized for safety modifications and enhancements  

Along with mobility aids, people with disabilities rely on plastics to enhance safety and allow for independence through handrails or wheelchair ramps. Handrails help support individuals with disabilities as they climb stairs. Outdoors, these are often made from vinyl because it is five times stronger than wood and able to withstand weather damage and pressure from those using it to balance. In addition to handrails, plastics enhance autonomy for individuals in wheelchairs by providing an affordable and lightweight option for wheelchair ramps. These ramps can help those in wheelchairs get in and out of cars, over curbs or up and down stairs without needing additional help. With plastic safety modifications, individuals with disabilities can feel supported and safe, further increasing their mobility and autonomy.

Plastic mobility aids help make physical accommodations possible for individuals with disabilities. From innovations such as lightweight and durable wheelchairs and comfortable prostheses to safety enhancements for homes and cars, plastics are the ideal solution to increase individual autonomy and allow for new milestones in sports and other activities.

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