Finding a Chair-Friendly Fitness Tracker


By: Connor Lenahan

Like many others, I thought the Apple Watch was a bit silly when it was first announced. It seemed like the first product that the company had released that seemed entirely trivial. Macbooks and iPhones? Revolutionary. Apple TV? Still hasn’t reached its fully realized form. iPad? Shockingly helpful. Apple Watch? Ehh.

Imagine my surprise when I opened an Apple Watch on Christmas morning and my greater surprise when I ended up falling in love with this gadget almost immediately. My mom has long been on the Fitbit bandwagon and regularly uses hers to track steps in a competition with her sisters. I wanted to jump on this trend for a few reasons.

  1. I am huge on personal statistics. I just signed up for to track my Spotify statistics and am tracking my pop culture through a Google Doc this year because I’m insane.
  2. This is one of the few ways I could be competitive in something physical without immediately getting hurt.
  3. Who doesn’t like new gadgets?

I had tried a Fitbit just over a year ago only to learn that it was disappointingly limited in its scope. Imagine being out on a busy day only to learn that the Fitbit registered under 500 steps on the day. This was because the Fitbit didn’t track wheelchair movements, instead only actual steps.

This created a unique challenge because I can both walk and travel in my wheelchair, but the late constitutes 75% of my daily movement given that I do not walk outdoors in Boston for safety. So while the thing picked up my walk to and from my fridge for ice cream, it was skipping over critical things, like the mile walk to class I take every morning, and the mile walk back home. It would be like only tracking when I listen to Creed – a non-zero number, but not the majority of my day.

The Apple Watch, meanwhile, alerts the user to a wheelchair setting through the Activity and Workout apps upon setup. This was the happiest discovery of my morning, as the gadget watch went from novelty to necessity. After one day of rolling around my house, I found myself getting fair readings on my status. Yesterday I rolled back home from a haircut to the tune of 3 miles, and my watch counted over 7,000 pushes on the day. Suddenly I can compete with my brothers and mom in their regular competitions to see who is active.

But giving me some fun stats on my wheelchair movement was far from the happiest part of this gift. What made me happy was the fact that the wheelchair option existed prominently. It wasn’t buried in a manual, nor was it hidden behind eight menus. It was brought to my attention at the jump. That’s something delightful as a consumer to see, and brilliant as a student of technology.

A topic of study I’ve focused on over the past year is whitespaces in media and technology. The availability of a high-quality fitness tracker for disabled people was a whitespace that I hadn’t even considered despite being directly impacted by it. I was happy that I got anything out of my Fitbit when I walked but was not surprised when it didn’t work with the chair. This isn’t something that applies to those that are permanently wheelchair bound.

We are living in an incredible time for the evolution of technology to levels we have never before seen. Lest we forget that 2017 will mark just the 10th birthday of the iPhone. The discovery of the wheelchair setting was a happy one on Christmas, but a critical step forward in how technology reaches its audience. We have the capability to make things more universal in reach, and I think it’s better now than ever. I’ll take that as a glimmer of hope in a period of great uncertainty.