In 1996 the world was a different place.
The first baby boomers turned 50 — and were hardly in the market for mobility equipment. A year earlier, an equestrian accident had made Christopher Reeve arguably the world’s most famous spinal-cord injury patient. But despite Reeve’s high profile, and the still-new Americans with Disabilities Act, expectations for people with disabilities were modest in 1996.
Against that backdrop, Pride Mobility Products introduced the Jazzy power chair, which celebrates its 10th birthday in 2006.
“When the Jazzy came out, it was a completely new way of doing power wheelchairs,” says Dan Meuser, president of Pride USA, during a call that also included Jim Mulhern (VP of research & development); Jerry White (VP of global power chair products); Scott Higley (VP/national sales director, Quantum Rehab) and Ted Raquet (VP of power chair sales).
“Mid-wheel drive was really not even considered before,” Meuser says. “We made a chair that had a center of balance at the tip of someone’s nose, which is the natural center of somebody’s coordination. That’s really the secret of the Jazzy. What that did was from day one, it gave people the ultimate indoor maneuverability vehicle.”
The impact was great, Meuser says, on patients who had been immobile in their own homes. “Rear-wheel drive did not work indoors, and scooters did not work indoors,” he points out. “Now this huge population of people who were — using the language of CMS — bed or chair confined had a device that would not only maneuver in those tight quarters, but was easy to use.”
“In the past people had to adapt their environments to a chair,” Higley explains. “Now we had a chair that is already adapted to their environments.”
Mid-wheel-drive, designed to emulate how people walk and pivot, made driving Jazzy a snap. “The learning curve is so important,” White says. “We talk about the mind’s natural method for maneuvering — and the moment you get into the chair, it operates exactly as you would expect. For a lot of people, moving from some other device to a power wheelchair could be a difficult transition. But the Jazzy product is so intuitive that exactly where you think you want to move — the chair does exactly that.”
In addition to functionality, Meuser says Jazzy offered style. He calls Jazzy’s design something “never before found in a power wheelchair — it was acceptable to (consumers). It was almost scooter-like.”
“(With Jazzy) we could handle clients who had transitional diseases, such as MS and ALS,” Higley says. “In the past they had to make the leap from a scooter to a wheelchair with big chrome wheels, and it looked very medical. It was a shock. They didn’t need all that yet — they couldn’t control the tiller anymore, but they just needed a joystick. (Jazzy) looked a lot like a scooter, with the seat and the nice styling of the shroud. But down the road, we could adapt for their needs as their conditions progressed.”
“Scott Higley called Jazzy a ‘transitional chair,'” Meuser says. “And it’s so true.”
Consumers were drawn to Jazzy, Meuser remembers. “At the Abilities Expo in 1996, I was with one of our large customers who really wasn’t even in power chairs at the time: Mike Fuller from Independent Living Aids. We had the chair at the Abilities Expo, and a woman comes up — she was 90 years old and in a manual wheelchair, being pushed by her son.
“He said, ‘We’re just trying to find something for her; there’s nothing she can use on her own.’ While we were talking, she got into (the Jazzy), hit the joystick and took off down the aisle. Mike Fuller and I looked at each other and said, ‘We got something here.'”
White remembers the first Jazzy — named, incidentally, by Pride’s CEO, Scott Meuser — “as your standard 24″ wide, full-sized power chair.” Next came such models as the Jazzy 1103, as engineers heeded the call for products for smaller environments. Mulhern remembers that European markets demanded suspension systems on “a whole new level.”
“The more you give to the consumer, the more they’re going to use the chair,” he points out. “We’ve had to continue to increase durability, because users use this product in more different places, and more aggressively, than ever before. It challenges us to continue to push that envelope.”
Pride will commemorate Jazzy’s birthday all year — including at Medtrade in booths 1614 and 2014 — in celebration of the chair’s history, and in anticipation of its future… new power mobility codes and all. Meuser includes dealers in that celebration: “Providers have had as much to do with the Jazzy’s 10-year success as our engineers. Our providers just love taking care of people. It’s in their blood. Their focus is to give people mobility.”
And he believes Jazzy has helped accomplished that goal and will continue to do. Says Meuser: “Jazzy created a true paradigm shift.”