Commentary

Rehab Power Chairs Must Advance to Become More Confidence Inspiring

If we are to have a candid conversation about how rehab power chairs serve those whose lives rely on them, we can’t merely acknowledge the medical benefits, but also how power chairs must meet the emotional and social aspects of the user — that is, serve as confidence-inspiring solutions toward the entirety of one’s life pursuits.

In the evolution of power chairs, as an industry, we first rightfully focused on evolving products to meet medical needs decades ago, and it profoundly enhanced lives. Rehab power chairs subsequently have dramatically improved in so many areas, including seating and positioning, maneuverability, frontal stability, electronics and alternative drive controls. However, our consumer research indicates that more must be done in evolving rehab power chairs. Users appreciate the medical benefits and essential mobility offered by rehab power chairs, but remain disappointed by remaining limitations. Users are perplexed about why so many features that could be built into their power chairs to increase daily functionality and quality of life aren’t funded by reimbursement.

Even more disheartening, our consumer research shows that as difficult as disability can be, the “medical model” power chair experience can make it worse, where based on restrictive designs, users feel less secure in their lives. Many feel left out of social situations because they’re not at conversational height. Some feel insecure to venture out alone out of fear of power chair reliability and battery range issues. Others feel vulnerable at night, navigating their power chairs without lights. And many feel embarrassed because cumbersome, non-intuitive drive systems cause them to hit walls and doorways. What consumers tell us is that everyday experiences — trying to meet friends for dinner among high-top tables, navigating a dark parking lot, or even maneuvering in their own homes — can be “demoralizing” experiences.

What our consumer research ultimately shows, however, is that we must break this cycle limiting the lives of those we serve. With the past behind us and lessons learned — as an industry, through funding policy — we need to shift rehab power chairs from
limiting to confidence inspiring.

What we’re witnessing with user after user is that with every incremental socially aware advancement that we make in rehab power chair technology, they express how profoundly it improves their lives — independence increases, social inclusion expands and confidence climbs. “You wouldn’t think including lights on a power chair is a big deal, but when I’m trying to negotiate sidewalks at night coming home from the bus stop, it’s so much safer, and I feel more confident in my independence,” a user told us.

Of course, building in rightful features that address the entire spectrum of one’s well-being — from the medical to those that create greater independence and remove social limitations — can add cost. However, the industry is seeing successes in overcoming the cost challenges through both educating funding sources and striving to design and manufacture these features to be affordable. For example, by demonstrating during the funding submission process that power-adjustable seat height can increase the user’s safety during transfers and decrease in-home care by allowing independent cooking and such, funding sources are realizing the vital nature of the technology to the beneficiary. Simultaneously, some manufacturers are striving to reduce the cost of confidence-inspiring technologies like power seat elevation and lighting so that it’s accessible to all. And additional clinical research studies are being performed and presented to further demonstrate to private and governmental funding sources that a small investment toward providing the right technologies dramatically improves the physical, emotional and social well-being of users. In all, we need to continue uniting as an industry in furthering these fundamental approaches. We must work to truly show the value of confidence-inspiring rehab power chairs, where everyone understands the ethical importance of funding and delivering technologies that liberate the entirety of users’ lives.

As rehab power chair professionals, we must recognize that the perspective of users is our guiding light. The late Steve Jobs said, “What’s important is that you have a faith in people… and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” When it comes to rehab power chair technology, let’s provide those we serve with tools that empower all aspects of their lives. By delivering power mobility solutions that not only meet medical needs, but also social and emotional needs, we’re then giving power chair users the fullest scope of well-being. And with that confidence-inspiring technology, they can then best advocate for themselves and their peers, including toward ensuring funding for such rightful technologies — and everyone wins in that process.

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

About the Authors

Scott Meuser is chairman and CEO of Pride Mobility Products Corp./Quantum Rehab, based in Exeter, Pa.

Mark E. Smith is the General Manager for Pride Mobility Products Corp., and can be reached at 800-800-8586, or via email at msmith@pridemobility.com.

Subscribe to eMobility

Mobility Management's free email newsletter keeping you up-to-date and informed.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy