Dear Invacare, Staxi, Sunrise, Permobil, Quickie, Pride, Quantum, Hovaround, PDG, Drive, Karman, and others who make manual and powered wheelchairs:
Your products suck.
“Pretty strong language there, Commodore!” I know, so hear me out. This is more than just an “oh I’m building my own EV”, I’m legitimately pointing out areas that need improvement!
As you may recall in part 1, I talked about them wheeling me out to the car, being in a wheelchair in Boston Logan, and then the wheelchair ride at Reagan. Each of these experiences, combined with my short rides in Ol’ Bleu, riding a mountain bike, having a spine and hamstrings, have given me some insights to share so I will share them with you!
First off, the wheelchairs at the hospital and the airport were the same models. Airport chair was older and more beat up, but they were the same. Something they have in common is tubular steel construction, swing away footrests, sling seat, and back, and foam filled tires. This is the basic design since the medical wheelchair was invented, really. And the positives are that the footrests get out of the way so the patient can stand and sit, the sling back allows it to fold, the solid tires don’t get flats, and steel is durable. See, I’m not totally unreasonable!
Except when hitting *any* bump on the floor, sidewalk, road, etc. Going into the elevator in the hospital? Bump! My newly sensitive spine was in searing pain. Getting off the same elevator? Same. Sidewalk? Bump, bump, bump!
Same at the airport. Really, any bump that isn’t taken as slowly as possible is going to knock you around and jar your back and neck, and I mean the slowest. One easy fix is to put shock absorbers on there, like on a mountain bike. It won’t take all of it away, but it will take away a lot, won’t add that much weight, and is fairly cheap. Heck, I could get a Wal-Mart bike with better suspension for cheaper!! And the worst part is, people in wheelchairs need better suspension than mountain bikers!!!
The sling seat? Great for folding, not great at supporting a rider. The sling back is… well, low and supportive to some but not all. And the swing away footrests have a big problem – not only do they stick out and make the chair a hazard to anyone or anything in front of it, but the angle which they rest create the shortening effect on the hamstrings. By the end of the time in Logan, my hammys were barking terribly. So the solution is a center footrest – they make them! And you know what, they can fold up too! The sling seat could be fixed by a rigid chair frame, not the X-design for folding. In an airport, why do you need to fold them?
Which brings me to Reagan National Airport. Their solution is stackable wheelchairs, made by the company “Staxi”. These chairs stack en masse, so they are rigid. They are also center footrest! Whoa, win-win, right? It was the most painful ride of the whole day. Look why:
See those tiny wheels, solid rubber tires? YOU FEEL EVERYTHING. And in the hands of someone not really trained to push a disabled person? Everything is painful. When I got to Joey’s car and the door closed I let out a loud and long “OOOOOOWWWWW!” This chair is built for stackability, not for the patient.
Then there is Ol’ Bleu. Permobil F3, about $30k. When you are in it though, the highly vaunted suspension is… um… well you feel every sidewalk crack!
And every uneven surface! This isn’t how a top end wheelchair should be!
And there is my beef. These chairs aren’t built for the patients, the end users. Somewhere along the line, they don’t actually test their products for how the end user will use them. We aren’t asking for much, nor am I detailing any crazy uses of these chairs!! So that leads to the opening statement.
I asked on Twitter if they actually rode in their products. I really think they test back and forth on the flattest, smoothest surface possible, and never take them over bumps. They can’t possibly! Manual and powerchairs, there is no way they are thinking about the end user here, otherwise, it would reflect that and be easier than it is!!!
Ok, I’ll refer you to this previous post where I linked an article detailing why they were so expensive. But… do you SEE the chairs here?? For that money (the cost of an Audi A3, remember), and they aren’t taking the end user into account as they go through all the testing and “Certifying”??? How else can you explain to me that if I have Ol’ Bleu on the sidewalk and roll over 1/2″ crack, my head and body jerks and my butt feels it? The thing has 4 coilover suspension springs but none of ’em are for the rider’s rear end!!
I’m not going to say they don’t care. I AM going to say that they are in business, and maybe making money has affected their take on how to build equipment for people with disabilities. Rant over, for now.
Now, I promised I would give a sneak peek at the EV. To be fair, I don’t know if I’ll feel all the bumps in the EV, or if she’ll be “better” than Ol’ Bleu. What I do know is I’ll love her more, because she’s a product of love, from the dream, concept, implementation, purchasing, building… I had a part in that, which is more than any of those other chairs or companies. We thought about what I wanted and we tackled it with American muscle and ingenuity.
So here she is mocked up with the old Corvette seat, and also some of the electronics.
And, because I love you all…