Wheelchair "add-ons": it all adds up to more fun and participation
Wheelchair "add-ons": it all adds up to more fun and participation
Inclusion also means that nobody gets left out when it comes to recreational activities. People with disabilities no longer want to pass up on any events, whether it is wheelchair sports, outdoor activities or just having "more fun” getting around town. REHACARE.com took a closer look at some of the latest trends in the leisure sector and gained exciting insights into the stories behind several developments.
Whether on uneven terrain or in the city, the Bi-Go is virtually the entry-level model in the world of balance wheelchairs. Thanks to Segway technology, the wheelchair checks 100 times per minute in which position the wheelchair is at the moment and thus keeps its balance.
Whether you are young and adventurous, want to manage daily stress or simply enjoy more mobility – wheelchairs should limit no one in reaching their full potential. To pursue an active lifestyle, you need a mobility aid that doesn’t present an obstacle. For many years, manufacturers have included their target audience in the product development process. And sometimes, it’s also the people who are directly affected that take design matters into their own hands.
Wheelchairs made by wheelchair users, for wheelchair users
Enter Zbynek Sykora, Ivan Nestaval, and Miroslav Sperk. The three sports enthusiasts are not only well-connected in the world of wheelchair sports, but they also know what a great wheelchair should be like from their personal lives. Ivan has a son who uses a wheelchair, while the other two experts are wheelchair users themselves. Six years ago, the trio decided to make the type of wheelchair that suits the needs of athletes and subsequently founded Ultina s.r.o. Whether it is for basketball, floorball, tennis, or "just" for everyday use - "We are not offering a compensating aid, but a tool which will lead to the maximum potential of an athlete," says Miroslav Sperk. With the INDIVIDUAL ONE and the PLUS models, Ultina offers the perfect everyday wheelchair that does not compromise, reflecting the company’s "Back to active" tagline.
For the three experts, the production of each wheelchair resembles the creation of a mosaic: "The individual needs of a handicapped sportsman represent a challenge for us and challenges are our main motivation." One piece of the mosaic is the special measurement method - BESPOKE. It is also part of Ultina's individual approach. "We believe manufacturing wheelchairs is not a typical business, thus we treat it like differently. Each of us is unique thus each of us need a unique approach."
While Miroslav points out that the three founders do not consider the wheelchair production their livelihood and business in the true sense, the trio still needs to be economically efficient. Their location in the Czech Republic enables them to offer quality products at a reasonable price. The country’s successful athletes swear by Ultina wheelchairs. So how much athlete input is reflected in the Czech wheelchairs? "The feedback from all our customers is important to us. We try to learn from each of them." And like athletes worth their salt, the three innovators keep looking for new challenges. They plan to soon expand their portfolio by adding a handcycle and an Ultina monoski to delight fans of winter sports.
E-drives expand the possibilities of users not only in everyday life, but also in their leisure time.
Power assist add-on systems encourage participation and mobility
Alber GmbH is another company that aims to design and develop products based on the needs of wheelchair users. Headquartered in Germany’s Swabian Alb, it specializes in easy-to-use, convenient electromobility - especially as it pertains to mobility aids for wheelchair users. Alber always aims for improvement, which is why it created its in-house innovation lab. It includes a group of developers, product managers, marketers, and sales experts who have made it their mission to develop the best power assists for active wheelchair users. Enter the SMOOV one, a "compact, high-performance product that significantly increases the active wheelchair user's mobility and makes everyday life easier," says Thomas Müller, SMOOV product manager. Whether it's grass, carpets, or hills with slopes up to a 16 percent grade – the power assist delivers the extra power when you need it and is easy to dock, undock, and transport thanks to its compact design. The add-on drive is mounted in the rear of the wheelchair and is operated via a small control unit with which the SMOOV can be switched on and off and energy levels adjusted with precision.
The pint-sized powerhouse is designed for active wheelchair users who long for something more. "That is why we have had several active wheelchair users on the development team to put their needs, wishes and ideas center stage and create a product that reflects the target group," the product manager reveals. Small wonder its slogan is "be fly".
"From the SMOOV one and the e-pilot for the active wheelchair user, to the e-motion add-on drive for people who can still use wheelchair pushrims but need an extra boost to push and brake, to the e-fixadd-on drive, which turns your manual wheelchair into a compact electric wheelchair," Alber has a large variety of solutions users can choose based on their individual abilities and application. The reasons electric power assist drive units are trendy are simple, says Müller: "Electric add-on drives make wheelchair users more independent and increase their freedom of movement. It enables them to master everyday challenges independently with no third-party help."
Tools for people who want more out of life
But it's about so much more than just getting around comfortably according to Mark Retter, product specialist, training manager, and trainer at AAT Alber Antriebstechnik GmbH. "These products enable people to participate in activities such as bike rides, hikes with family and friends or physical exercise. Many things that used to seem impossible are suddenly within reach again." The company is the exclusive distributor for BATEC MOBILITY products.
The company’s handbikes were designed by Pau Bach, who became a wheelchair user after an accident. For the founder, the state of assistive technology back then proved frustrating as it did not meet his need for mobility or his preferred lifestyle. He quickly decided to develop his own handbikes. His motto and that of his company: "You can get used to being in a wheelchair, but not giving up on life"
The primary goal is to engage in a wider variety of activities and enjoy a broader range of movement. With the help of the MINI2, for example. The compact attachable handbike can be stowed in nearly any trunk. Simply drive your car into town and attach the MINI2 in the parking lot for more mobility. "Larger models like the SCRAMBLER2 are a great option for anyone looking for adventure and a way to move beyond paved surfaces. Things can get a little rougher thanks to its amped up motor power (nominal power: 1440W) and the large 19" drive wheel. It’s perfect to travel different terrains away from the crowds, pollution and noise," Retter adds enthusiastically.
As with almost all electric assistive devices, traction devices or handbikes like the BATEC MINI2 are getting ever smaller, easy-to-use, and more powerful. But there are also many technical improvements, which is not something the user might notice right away. Sensors ensure the safety of users and make products easier to use. But Thomas Müller admonishes that "this trend is in stark contrast to health reimbursements, which are getting lower, forcing manufacturers to make simpler and cheaper products. That means these aren’t always the products that yield the best results, but rather items that don’t cost as much." Still, Mark Retter is certain that power add-on drives will "play a crucial role in the future when it comes to making life easier for wheelchair users."
The SMOOV one is always there when you need it. Depending on the mood of the day and whether you need the extra power or not. In addition, the add-on drive has a battery indicator, Bluetooth interface and a USB-C port.
The Segway wheelchair – the link between active wheelchair and traction device
Power add-on drives or traction devices give wheelchair users more options and extra power. The Dutch manufacturer 2KERR offers its customers a wheelchair that is like no other because it requires no muscle power. The mobility aids use the self-balancing technique invented by U.S. manufacturer Segway."This technology makes it possible to drive on 2 wheels, without any effort of the user. The balance wheelchair can rotate around its axis and is therefore very compact and manoeuvrable, even in small spaces such as an elevator," Majella van Geurp-Desmense, Marketing Manager at 2KERR sums up the benefits of the technology. Another nice perk is that this also breaks down barriers between wheelchair users and able-bodied people, because the modern design and transportation method – meaning the popular Segway look - help remove the stigma of disabilities in the public eye.
And what do users say? "When I first moved with my body, I found it scary but also mind-blowing," Gina Coolen remembers the first trip with her OMEO. The steering takes some getting used to at first and requires some core stability. "The chair needs active input from the user but you do not have to keep balance yourself! The balance technology will do that for you. However it has a relative active seating position," says van Geurp-Desmense. The wheelchairs with balance technology are available in an active version, i.e., a version that can be controlled with a slight movement of the upper body, and a passive version that users control with a joystick. "The balance technology ensures that the chair (with you on it) stays perfectly in balance 100 times per second and therefore does not fall over. There are multiple safety features and a good warning system that help the user to drive safely." All this allows users to focus on what’s really important – having hands-free control, for example.
"Freedom" is a word that many users utter when they talk about their respective models. "When I sat down in the Bi-Go balance wheelchair, I literally said: These are my legs! And now: To the city, into the woods with the dog, on vacation, I do everything with it," says Ilse Struik. "The world opened up to me. The Freee has made me a free bird again. With my Freee I go everywhere again," remarks Chiel ten Kate.
Ultimately, this type of feedback is the best seal of approval. The company launched two more models on the market this year –HOSS and iBOT – further expanding its portfolio. No matter what type of disability, 2KERR aims "to improve the life of every kind of user with excellent mobility solutions" – and make safe driving more fun.