Looking Forward: What Clients Will Expect from the Next Generation of Power Chairs
- By Julie Jackson
- Aug 01, 2011
In 2004, when I began my career with Invacare Corp., I was fresh to
the industry, new to learning complex rehab and a novice at mobility
equipment. Since then I have been fortunate to be a part of exciting
product development projects, as well as challenging changes to the
One aspect that I have found the most rewarding is understanding
the needs of the consumer: the needs of the person who will be
operating the power equipment, whether it is the client themselves
or the caregiver. Bringing a product to market that is intuitive, innovative
and responsive is critical, and I see this as a continuing need.
Simplicity is key!
Efficiency & Effectiveness
Front-wheel, rear-wheel and center-wheel-drive configurations all
possess their individual strengths and advantages in different environments.
Offering all configurations for clients results in ultimate
consumer preference. I expect that the next generation of equipment
must provide maximum comfort, optimal ride quality and maximum
stability in any drive configuration power base to ultimately get the
client from point A to point B, efficiently and effectively.
Increasingly, the traditional tilt system is accompanied by a power
recline system. Many versions of recline are available to meet the
individual needs of the client and help minimize the shearing effect.
Going forward, I anticipate improvements in recline systems to make
the shearing effect as minimal as possible. I also expect to see more
innovation with elevating seat designs and increasing trends with
standing systems to help gain our clients the ability to have greater
access to their environment. What potential power seating systems
will be created next to gain our clients better accessibility to more in
Also, able-bodied consumers enjoy the benefit of memory seating
in vehicles; now our clients can enjoy the benefits of memory seating
while in their power wheelchairs. By a single switch hit, the power
seating system can advance to a pre-selected tilt, recline and power
leg extension, achieving the maximum pressure relief.
I see modularity as a key requirement moving forward — the
ability to add items to the chair or easily modify or adapt the chair as
Giving Consumers More Control
Having better access to the environment will continue to increase as
we advance with technology. Utilizing environmental controls such
as infrared technology or mouse emulation to operate televisions,
radios, lights, garage doors, temperature controls, augmentative
communication and mobile devices is a more common offering now.
We are a society that has become dependent upon technology, and
making ourselves accessible wherever we go, and so we too need
improved accessibility to our environment.
The greatest area of advancement in the past few years has been
in the arena of electronics. Wow, how the joystick options have
changed and improved to be more user-friendly and ergonomic.
With such a large sampling of driver control options, clients can
operate their chair via their head, their air puffs, their eyes, their
chin and their feet. The necessity for driver controls to do more
than drive the chair is an expectation. Driver controls should function
as hands and gain the client access to all in their environment
including mobile devices, tablets, computers, etc.
Also we've seen improvements to drive tracking performance.
Through the use of gyroscopes, we've improved the tracking ability
and have minimized the need for veer corrections for clients. This
ultimately results in less fatigue for consumers.
A few years ago transport brackets on power chairs was not a
common option, and today many power mobility manufacturers
crash-test bases. This is another example of making power chairs
more accessible to everyday environments. Manufacturers are also
recognizing the need for lighting packages on chairs. Lighting
options provide the client the ability for the power wheelchair to be
seen at night.
Based on Customers' True Needs
One important aspect of bringing the right product to market
is actively listening and engaging with customers and conducting
field research. It's critical to always be looking forward at trends
and where we think the market will shift. Where can we go next
with technology and access to improve our equipment offering? This
activity is our ultimate responsibility as manufacturers to develop
products based upon our customers' true needs. With the everchallenging
and changing reimbursement environment, we must
continue to develop products that meet the clinical needs of our
clients and offer them the best possible product offering.
One of my most memorable experiences was during a field evaluation
of a new pediatric power chair we introduced. To see the child
traverse obstacles that were impossible previously, to see the child
utilize a power seat elevator to reach a countertop, to see the child
drive at a faster speed to keep up with peers was truly inspiring. To
see the mother watch her son smile, laugh and engage was lasting.
The best part of this journey has been being a part of a culture
that brings products that can improve someone's life, modality or
access to their environment to fruition. There's only more exciting
developments to come.
This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Mobility Management.
Julie Jackson is director of the rehab business unit for Invacare Corp.