This past weekend, I did something I never thought I would do:
I fixed my own washing machine. It was a daunting task, since
I’m not what one would call “handy," but I wanted to save
myself some money — and so I took a shot.
My trepidation for the project was just based on a perception that
this job was only for an expert equipped for technical jobs like this
one. As it turns out, I didn’t need the original owner’s manual from the
decade-old washer, nor did I need to call the Maytag man and ask him
to dust off his rotary phone earpiece for once.
I needed YouTube.
While YouTube isn’t going to solve all of our frustrations, it is just one
piece of many that will continue to simplify the complexity of rehab.
Taking the Complex Out of Complex Rehab?
First, let us step back and look at what makes rehab seemingly so
complex. Simply stated, rehab products look intimidating. Whether it
is a manual tilt-in-space wheelchair or a power wheelchair with power
tilt, recline and elevate, the complexities of positioning individuals on
a wheelbase small enough to maneuver inside a home, but rugged
enough to handle outdoor driving in all weather conditions, leads
to many static and moving parts in small packages. But the reality is
that as complex as these highly engineered products are, they’re quite
elegant and simple.
Taking cues from automobiles, motorsports and outdoor recreation
products, manufacturers use the latest design trends to create
easily removable molded shrouds that protect sensitive moving parts,
but also offer quick access when needed. Move under the shroud, and
you may see clutter — namely nuts, bolts and wire ties — engineered
out in favor of components engineered to need fewer fasteners, and
common components used across multiple platforms.
Another example is the use of a global motor and gearbox platform
that allows motor and gearbox to be separated. This reduces the
amount of time needed for service and helps to create efficiency for
service departments, ultimately returning the consumer to his or her
wheelchair faster. Modularity, common components and “plug-and-play"
design allow manufacturers to create better products that help
to eliminate the time and cost of unknowns that all providers servicing
these products must face.
The Electronics Evolution
The most visible developments that combine the rapid advancement of
technology, the scale of highly technical components becoming affordable,
and the ability to be innovative and simpler has been in wheelchair
electronics. In the past two years this confluence of factors has allowed
most manufacturers to offer color LCD display screens and include the
ability to upload personal photos or select from multiple color choices
for screen preferences. For the technician in all of us, some electronics
systems keep a fault log that allows the consumer to report any faults
over the phone to the provider, who can then offer solutions to correct
the error without a service call or down time. The marvel of this feature
and many like it is that in previous generations of software, not only was
this not technically feasible — it was also cost prohibitive.
Built-in features like diagnostics and high-resolution color displays
make previous generations look like products of the Industrial
Revolution, but it’s the progress we’ve made in allowing consumers
to use their wheelchair electronics to access their environment that
offers the best glimpse into the future. One might say that a theme of
the future in this segment will be “What else can I do with my driver
control or joystick?" Whether it is infrared, Bluetooth, mouse emulation
or another environmental control (ECU), the setup, programming, operation
and performance of these functions has become easier, more reliable
and more cost effective. The winner in all of this, ultimately, is the
consumer. Competition among manufacturers means they get innovative
and more economical products faster.
The single-most important factor in making rehab not so complex now
and in the future is the ever-shrinking gap between manufacturers,
providers and consumers. The benefit a consumer derives from this gap
reduction hasn’t even come close to its critical mass, but in the product
design, manufacturing and marketing efforts of the rehab value chain,
it is already impactful. The catalyst for this is, of course, social media.
The most important life-sustaining source to a marketer of products
is access to their base of customers, which social media has changed
now and forever. Do the manufacturers of the wheelchairs you order
have Facebook pages? Like them. Do they have Twitter feeds? Follow
them. Do they have YouTube channels? Subscribe to them. Encourage
the consumers you work with to do the same.
Yes, marketing organizations want to market to you, but as this relationship
grows, you will have an impact on the products your clients
use every day. If there are product-related items that frustrate or elate
you or your customers on a daily basis, there is no better medium in
which to voice your opinion, concern, suggestion or praise.
Speaking from the standpoint of a manufacturer, learning about
your experience with our products is paramount to any market
research. Couple that with the relatively small size of our industry, and
the closeness that social media creates for us — and your voice really
can lead to change.