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November 20, 1996

When Walking Fails

Author Affiliations

From the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the Charles A. Dana Research Institute, and the Harvard-Thorndike Laboratory, Boston, Mass.

JAMA. 1996;276(19):1609-1613. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540190081041

WALKING is the unthinking transportation of daily life, supporting countless but essential tiny trips within homes and beyond. Walking upright also holds profound symbolic importance. Bipedal locomotion, not intellect, defined the first human ancestors 3.6 million years ago. Nowadays, upright movement permeates American aphorisms, connoting independence, autonomy, self-reliance, and strength—"standing on your own two feet," "walking tall." Bipedal imagery suffuses watershed events—"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Because I am increasingly unable to walk due to multiple sclerosis, I have lost not only my once-easy movement but also a core sense of value and place in the world.

A simple discovery restored my independence and spirit—an electric wheelchair. Firmly in control of this conveyance, I now go where I want when I want, traveling frequently for my work. Of course, getting around this way has its faustrations, such as unanticipated physical barriers blocking even heavily