CRT Technology Showcase

Ready for Prime Time: WHILL's Model M

Model MThe 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 minimalistic.”

Model MModel 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 customizability.

Take a closer look, and you might find that WHILL’s new Model M defies preconceptions.

“For some people,” Koyama said, “it’s a great option.”

(844) MY-WHILL

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

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

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