Transfers for a Lifetime: A Personal Perspective

successful wheelchair transfer

ADI founder Todd Hargroder contemplates his next invention.

Asked to define a successful transfer, Todd Hargroder, founder of Accessible Designs Inc. (ADI), starts with the practical.

“Getting from point A to point B,” he said. “As long as you don’t end up on the floor, you’re doing pretty good.”

He’s both light hearted and serious, and he speaks from personal experience and as a life-long engineer. A wheelchair user for nearly 30 years, Hargroder described himself as “a C5-C6 quadriplegic, so my level of injury is pretty high. I don’t have triceps, I don’t have the upper-body strength to do a big lift and swing-over. It’s more like a lift, scoot, in multiple stages.”

As a newly injured teen, he could barely propel his wheelchair. “But being a 19-year-old kid, I had big motivation to be able to transfer again so I could get back on the road and chase girls and do the things that young men do,” Hargroder laughed. Now, 30 years later, he makes nearly all transfers independently.

He acknowledged those abilities make him something of an over-achiever, given his injury level. His work at ADI can mean eight to 10 transfers per day, just with his van. “Chair setup and environment setup is so key,” he said, admitting that when he travels, many factors escape his control.

“It’s 1 a.m.,” he said. “You’ve just traveled all day and you’re dead tired and go into your room and open it up. The bed is four feet high; how am I going to do that transfer? The world out there, you just never know what’s in front of you.”

Over the years, Hargroder said his transfer processes have evolved. “Better technique, better equipment, just the ways I’ve set things up in my van and at home,” he explained. “I’m a designer, and I’m always trying to figure stuff out. I have many different chairs that I use throughout my week — some power chairs, some manual chairs — and those all play into the types of transfers. I use transfer boards when I transfer in and out of a car; in and out of my van, I’ve progressed beyond the point of needing a transfer board, but early on, I did. That’s how I developed my first transfer board with the non-slip material on the bottom, to get in and out of my van.”

Hargroder clarified that a successful transfer also must be time efficient, but said, “Early on, those transfers sometimes did take 30 minutes — a couple of inches and just dog tired and then a couple of inches more. Now it’s less than a minute to transfer into my seat and get comfortable.” He said he thinks about his skin health “throughout my day,” and promotes that by eating right, staying hydrated, keeping his weight down and diligently stretching.

Over time, his engineering mind has found small ways to improve the transfer process.

“Just looking at your environment — in getting in and out of the van, seeing that there aren’t things in the seat sticking up that you’ve got to [transfer] over. Having the side bolsters shaved down a little to make that a smoother transfer. On my ROHO seat cushion, I don’t use a cover. I Velcro my cushions to the seat base and then run the ROHO without the cover. That makes it so much easier to slide in and out of that chair.”

Those added efficiencies add up in the life of an active wheelchair user, Hargroder said. “I don’t live my whole life in my chair,” he pointed out. “I transfer in and out of it to do different things.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Mobility Management.

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