Having used a manual wheelchair for 47 years, I’ve had plenty of time to consider wheelchair design and what I’d like to see in a manual chair. And I also know what I don’t want to see, mainly the pea-brained designs you’ll find on www.designboom.com. There’s a super-cushy chair with oversized chrome wheels, a four-foot width and no footplates — totally impractical, unless you plan on staying in the living room the rest of your life. Then there’s the cutesy woogle chair with its cartoon-like fat legs and plastic bucket seat that look suitable for an ambulatory child — but not a paralyzed adult.
The problem with these designs is that they have nothing to do with practicality. I’d guess most of the designers have never even used a wheelchair. With this in mind, I offer you my suggestions for my dream chair.
First off, I’ll need self-cleaning casters. I spend more time unwinding my wife’s hair from my casters than any other maintenance task. And while I’m on casters, I’d like to see quick-change EZ on-and-off casters of differing sizes. Most chairs come standard with the smallest size possible, but if you ever need to lean over in front or to either side to pick something up, you know how easy it is to tip and get dumped out. What if you had a larger size available, preferably built right into the chair? Just retract the small caster and snap the larger one into place. If that’s too complicated and unwieldy, then how about snap-down front stabilizers?
Then there’s the comfort problem. Sitting in a manual chair all day with no tilt-in-space or recliner function is hell on your butt and back. Why not make an adjustable reclining function so you can vary your sitting position once in a while?
This next problem may be unsolvable, but here goes: How many times have your footplates bottomed out due to sudden terrain change or some overzealous “helper” pushing you over uneven ground at the exact wrong time?
I have actually been catapulted out of my chair a number of times from having my footplates bottom out and my chair tip forward suddenly. I’m not sure how to overcome this problem, but someone smarter than I am can certainly design a solution.
And since we’re talking about a dream chair, why not go all the way? Most navigation problems — like steep grades or sand or soggy grass or even water — could be solved with an instantly deployable hovercraft function. Just push a button and a blast of air skims you over any surface. The added machinery would weigh a ton, no doubt, but you’d only need it on adventurous outdoor excursions.
If turning your chair into a hovercraft is too outrageous, you could always opt for something that’s a little more down to earth, like a heavy-duty seatbelt and a jetpack strapped to your back.
So much for my dream chair. The real dream is getting insurance to pay for anything even remotely innovative.