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Inspired—and Inspiring—Technology

During a recent trip to the grocery store near my condo in downtown Chicago, I encountered a man weighing a critical decision: which package of chicken to buy? He figured it out, but had trouble reaching into the refrigerator case and called out for some help. My fellow shopper, you see, was partially paralyzed. But despite his physical limitations, he was able to navigate the store by himself in a motorized wheelchair, his shopping basket propped on his lap.

I walked over to give him a hand. “Which package do you like?” I asked. He gestured and said, “That one in the corner.” It had about eight pieces—a rather large package. After I put it in his basket, he thanked me, so I joked a little bit. “So that’s tomorrow’s lunch?” I asked. My fellow shopper’s eyes lit up, and he said, “Why, how did you know that?” We both laughed and went on our way.

It was one of the small exchanges that makes life in the “big city” so enjoyable. Later, he went whizzing by me in another aisle, nodding as if we had known each other for years. And in a way we had. When two men connect in the grocery store, it does create a kind of bond that is probably deeply embedded in our genetic code from our provider forebears.

More and more, you see people in downtown Chicago in wheelchairs. Our curbs are compliant, our sidewalks are wide, and there are plenty of elevator-equipped high-rise buildings. To me, the motorized wheelchair is an example of how healthcare technology can be empowering—and inspiring—for not only the individual patient, but the community as a whole. It enables so many people to get out on their own and do the things others take for granted. But it also enriches our society in ways large and small.

My first boss, Ed Snively, was a quadriplegic. Jockeying about in his motorized chair, he managed to run a small business quite well. He was an upbeat leader with a great work ethic. After I worked with Ed for a while, I didn’t think much about the wheelchair. I just knew it gave me the opportunity to work with a great boss.

—Gary Baldwin