CRT Technology Showcase
Ready for Prime Time: WHILL's Model M
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Jul 01, 2016
The people at WHILL know what you’re thinking about
their new Model M, the power wheelchair recently given clearance
by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
That it doesn’t have tilt or recline. That despite its FDA clearance
and the fact that it needs to be prescribed by a physician, Model M
is closer to being a consumer power chair than a rehab one.
Chris Koyama, WHILL’s marketing director, has heard all this and
acknowledges the challenges.
“We’ve already started that process of having to proactively
address things that we know people are going to ask about,” he
said, adding that power chairs have been designed and prescribed
“in such a conventional way, the same way for such a long time.
Even therapists have a mindset that a power chair within a certain
group needs to have these features, and that’s how it is: ‘If you don’t
have that, you don’t really fit into our system.’ It’s hard for them to
change that mindset. A lot of them go straight to ‘Why don’t you
have tilt? Why don’t you have recline? This is what power chairs are
for, for these types of patients.’”
So what’s wrong with that kind of thinking?
“These patients are being categorized,” Koyama said. “[Clinicians]
don’t really treat their patients as consumers, as well. They want to
have options, too.”
Finding a Functional Balance
Koyama believes WHILL’s Model M balances clinical needs and
consumer preferences very well — and better than it gets credit
for on first glance.
Asked about Model M’s user demographic, Koyama said most
interest so far has come from clients with paraplegia or higher-functioning quadriplegia — particularly those who’ve used
wheelchairs for awhile.
“They’ve usually used a manual chair for 10 to 15 years, and their
shoulders are wearing out,” Koyama said. “So there’s wear and tear.
They need some kind of power assist or a power option.”
Or, he said, they need a power chair, “however, [power chairs] are
so bulky. They’re overspec’d. [Users] don’t need a tilt and recline. Or
there’s a stigma attached to [power chairs] within the community,
amongst other manual chair users: Don’t give up. Use what you have.
In fact, the common understanding in the medical [sector] is that
you want to balance what you use. You want to use your manual
chair to play basketball or play rugby, but preserve your shoulders.
Because this is a marathon. These people are using their chairs
for 20, 30, maybe 40 years. You need to preserve what you have,
because once your shoulders are out, you’re going to have a hard
time even lifting your spoon or knife to eat.”
Clients with lower-level quadriplegia, Koyama said, could also
find Model M a good fit if they “have good core strength, they can
do their own pressure relief independently without a caregiver,
don’t need a tilt or recline, can shift their bodies side to side and
forward and back to relieve pressure, and don’t need a bulky, big
power chair.” He suggests new college students — facing larger
campuses and perhaps less caregiver support than they’re accustomed
to — could find Model M useful as a secondary or even a
primary chair to preserve their independence.
A Conversation Starter
Plus, there’s another area in which WHILL’s chairs — both Model M
and the Model A “personal mobility device” — excel.
“[Users] want to be independent, they want a power option, but
they feel that people might see their chair more than themselves,”
Koyama said. “They feel WHILL is a more presentable option. It
totally changes how the conversation goes in public. It’s more like
‘That’s a cool chair, tell me about it.’ The design is really unique,
but there’s a purpose to it. We kept everything really simple and
Model M is more fully featured for users with more complex
needs than it might first appear. A VARILITE Icon backrest comes
standard in short, mid, tall or deep profiles, depending on how much support the user needs. Model M also comes standard
with what Koyama describes as a “mouse-type” controller, but
Bodypoint joystick options are available for those who need more
hand or arm support. Likewise, Bodypoint positioning supports,
such as the Evoflex Pelvic Stabilizer and Ankle Huggers, can be
added. And the chair’s arms move out of the way and its seat slides
nearly 6" forward to facilitate transfers.
A compact, 23.6" frame width is further enhanced by fourwheel
drive and all-directional front wheels that enable Model
M to turn completely in its own footprint. And adjustability in
such areas as arm angle, backrest angle and seat angle offer
Take a closer look, and you might find that WHILL’s new Model M
“For some people,” Koyama said, “it’s a great option.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Mobility Management.
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at email@example.com.