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Friday, February 2, 2018

The Wheelchair Manual--Hilarity Abounds

My new wheelchair came with a 24 page manual. I have never read a wheelchair manual before. I am however a fan of manuals. I am one of the few people who actually reads manuals that come with a computer, smart phone, car, appliance, or any mechanical device. My son relentlessly teases me about this. When he visited me a few weeks ago we read over the wheelchair manual. Gales of laughter ensued. I have been using a wheelchair all wrong for over forty years!

Exactly what am I doing wrong? Apparently I am not supposed to go out in adverse environmental conditions. The performance of my wheelchair can be profoundly affected by sand, mud, rain, snow and rough surfaces. Apparently "exposure to water or excessive moisture can be damaging and may even cause the wheelchair to corrode over the long term. DO NOT leave your wheelchair in humid environments such as the bathroom (e.g. while taking a shower). Store the wheelchair in a dry and cool location. The wheelchair should be stored away from direct exposure to sunlight. If the wheelchair is wet, dry all parts with a cloth before storing it. DO NOT use your wheelchair in the shower, pool, or other water situations".

I am expected to avoid exposing my wheelchair to direct sun light. That will be a bit difficult given the fact the Denver area gets over 300 days of sunshine a year. I had no idea the bathroom was off limits. It is assumed every wheelchair user lives with another person--specifically a caretaker. This mysterious person is responsible for removing the wheelchair from the bathroom when the shower is on. What becomes quickly apparent when reading the manual is that no wheelchair user can be independent. The wheelchair itself is not designed to be used independently. At all times the wheelchair user should be assisted by caregivers. On each and every page there is mention of caregivers. On each and every page the manual, in no uncertain terms, the wheelchair user is warned to "CONSULT your doctor, nurse, or therapist". I don't know any physician that has a remote understanding of how to use a wheelchair. This advice makes no sense.

Certain items appeared to be constant in the manual and the wheelchair industry in general. Wheelchair manufacturers love anti tippers. A wheelchair should NEVER be used without anti tippers. The manual is emphatic about this. I did not order anti tippers for my new wheelchair. I did not order a seat belt either. The wheelchair came with a seat belt and anti tippers installed on the frame. Wheelchairs come with all sorts of crap attached to them. I get this. There is much profit to be made with the installation of needless parts. Anti tippers are not cheap. On my chair they cost $112. The positioning seat belt was $33.90. The padded calf strap was 72.00. Carbon fiber side clothing guards were $232. The list goes on and on. Thus the stated price of the wheelchair and the actual cost are very different. My wheelchair listed for $2,076.00. By the time I was done with various upgrades the price tripled. The carbon fiber frame upgrade alone was $1,360.00.

I am well aware the manual exists to cover Motion Composites (the Canadian manufacturer) liability. What I find bothersome are the assumptions made. A wheelchair such as mine is well designed for a "skilled rider", the term consistently used in the manual. Yet if used as suggested in the manual manual would render such a person powerless. The person using the wheelchair is emphatically directed to consult experts such as physicians, therapists, qualified technicians for adjusting the wheelchair etc. At no point is the "skilled rider" considered the expert.

My favorite part of the wheelchair manual is the short section on popping wheelies. Popping a wheelie is a "dangerous maneuver". The manual is litered with warnings symbolized by an exclamation point inside a triangle. The message is not subtle. Yet this does not stop Motion Composites from using the image of a man using the wheelchair popping a wheelie!

 However inside the manual there are all sorts of warning about this "dangerous maneuver".

Motion Composites knows "some wheelchair users will ignore this warning". This warning will indeed be ignored. Most wheelchairs are now being manufactured with small solid front wheels typically less than four inches making wheelies are an essential skill. I learned how to pop a wheelie long ago. The year was 1978. I did not consult my health care provider. I did not have an assistant who could catch me before I fell. I was not a skilled rider at the time. I learned how to pop a wheelie at college shortly after I was paralyzed. A friend explained how to pop a wheelie and demonstrated his skill.  I then proceeded to go to my dorm room, drink six cans of beer and give wheelies a try. After falling about a dozen times I had it down!

I can't help but wonder about the wheelchair manual. Do people in the industry actually believe what is written? Are anti tippers essential to a wheelchair user? Is popping a wheelie really dangerous? Do people actually design wheelchairs that cannot be used in adverse environmental conditions. I want to scoff at these questions but cannot. I think of my friends who use larger impressive, and complex power chairs. These modern marvels cost as much as a brand new car. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a person using a power chair with a cheap plastic baggie over the controller in the rain. It makes no sense to me to manufacture a power chair with a controller that is not water proof. Does Motion Composites really expect my wheelchair to be magically removed and returned by a caregiver when I shower and steam up the bathroom? As I wrote yesterday, the wheelchair industry makes no sense. Tomorrow i will continue this theme as I further deconstruct the wheelchair owners manual.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

So glad you are back writing here I'm imagining what the manual writer thought would happen when the skilled rider encountered a curb - remove the anti-tip (from the chair??), carefully wheelie up the curb and then reinstall the anti-tip - all while getting to their destination on time?