Ian Ruder“So, instead of sitting on a cushion filled with air, you want me to sit on a solid, hard ‘cushion’?”

If you’ve lived any part of your life in a wheelchair, there is probably a product that changed your life, and if you’re lucky, there is a good story behind how you discovered it or what it did for you. My product story starts with me asking my most-trusted physical therapist the above question.

Picture me, with a blank look on my face, as if my brain had just exploded, trying to comprehend what she had suggested. I had been sitting on a high-quality, air-filled cushion for the first four or five years after my injury, and while it wasn’t perfect, my skin had been consistently OK. Most importantly, an air cushion made perfect sense — if you want to avoid pressure, what better way could there be than to float on air?
A hard cushion? That made no sense to me.

I have zero sensation, a fact driven home by my one previous experience with a pressure sore. I ended up sitting on a hard metal surface for an unknown number of days because I had no idea the cushion I was sitting on had deflated. Now my PT was telling me to trust a solid piece of hard foam to protect my most precious skin for the 14-16 hours a day that I am up and about. After years of everyone hammering home the importance of pressure relief and how quickly sores can develop, you can see why I wasn’t exactly excited about the idea.

My PT expected my response and explained that the new seating system would be built from a 3-D mold of my body in a seated position. The result would be a personalized seat and back orthotic that would offload my weight from the bony prominences and areas most likely to break down from pressure to the fattier areas that could handle it — like the thighs. The setup would have the added benefit of aligning my spine and posture, which she promised would also help to alleviate pressure problems.

That all made sense, but I still couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of sitting on something hard with no give. My PT introduced me to others who had made the switch and let me talk with the orthotists who would actually make the system.

I’d be lying if I ever said I felt 100 percent confident I was doing the right thing, but my gut eventually felt like making the switch made sense.
After a trepidatious first few days of physically and mentally adjusting to the new setup, it was smooth sailing. My skin looked better than it ever had. My anxieties disappeared, and within a month it was like nothing had happened. Sixteen years later, I’m on my third iteration of the same system and haven’t had as much as a blemish, much less a sore.

I feel incredibly lucky that I found the perfect product for my needs. I have met many other wheelers who didn’t like or couldn’t use the molded setup. Sadly, there is no simple “one-fits-all solution” when it comes to the complicated needs of our community. But there are more good options now than there ever have been, and hopefully this issue helps you find the perfect product for your needs.