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Permobil Blog / February 18, 2021

Abilities Virtual Interview with Chuck Witkowski & Paul Amadeus Lane

Abilities Virtual Interview with Chuck Witkowski & Paul Amadeus Lane

Permobil has attended and supported the Abilities Expo for a number of years. So when the event for the disability community moved from an in-person experience to a virtual experience we were excited to be a part of the first Abilities Virtual. Below is a transcript of the interview between the president of Permobil Chuck Witkowski and Paul Amadeus Lane. 

 

Check out the three products Chuck highlights in his interview with Paul:

Explorer MiniMini_Explorer_MidlineJoystick

ROHO® Hybrid Select CushionHybrid-Select-400x400-1

SmartDrive with PushTracker E2
TicWatch-E2-ProductPage

 

 


Transcript:

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
Welcome back to the Abilities Virtual experience live. I am Paul Amadeus Lane. So happy to be with you. We know because of this pandemic, we're not able to get together in person to give each other hugs and to just chop it up like we normally do at the Abilities Expo, but we're so glad that we have this platform so that we can still get informed. We can still virtually hang out and thank you all for visiting the workshops, the exhibits. Go by there and say hi to our exhibitors and show your love for them being a part of this event.

Also, I want to recognize our amazing ASL interpreter. Kara. Kara is doing an awesome job. Her and Charles together are keeping us all informed. And if you need closed caption, I believe you got to click on, I think right there. Am I hitting it right? Yeah. Over here. Yeah. Yeah. You can definitely click on that for closed caption and we are so happy to have you.

All right. Let's talk about wheelchairs. Which wheelchairs in particular? Permobil. That is close to my heart because I've been a multiple Permobil user, and I'm not your average bear. I'm like six foot six. I'm about 300 pounds. And so for me to be comfortable in a chair, it really has to fit my physique. And what Permobil is doing is truly amazing.

Now, Permobil, it was founded with the notion that achievement should not be a question of ability when we have the technology to turn dreams into reality and the right chair makes all the difference in your life. And I can definitely co-sign on that in your independence and in your long-term health. We're so happy to talk to right now, the president of Permobil, Chuck Witkowski. Chuck. Good to see you again, my friend, how are you?

Chuck Witkowski
Hey buddy. I'm good. How are you doing?

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
I am doing fantastic. And I promise not to geek out too much, Chuck, because you know me being a tech guy I could get up in the weeds of tech and just geek out on everything. But so I'm glad you're here to bring me back to the main focus. Hope you and your family and the team are doing well during this pandemic, my friend.

Chuck Witkowski: 
We are thanks for asking. And I hope that all of our Permobil family members out there are doing well and staying safe as well.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
Absolutely. You've got an incredible team too. I've worked with them on one project and they're just awesome. So give everybody a virtual hug from me, okay? You got it. You got it. Hey, Chuck, so what I wanted to do, something we would've been able to do if we were in person, was to find out some of the cool things that are happening with Permobil, so can you catch us up on how things are going and what we have to look forward to?

Chuck Witkowski:
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for asking and hey, by the way, we can geek out anytime, so just let me know.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
Sounds good.

Chuck Witkowski:
So, it's interesting obviously with the pandemic we've had, like everyone else an interesting year, but it hasn't slowed us down from an innovation standpoint and we've actually had a number of new product launches throughout the year and actually two or three here, just within the last three months. So the innovation train keeps rolling.

And some of maybe the most notables are so our earlier this year we launched a product called to Explorer Mini, which is really the first, it's a class two regulated product and really the first product aimed for children as young as six-months-old, to help them start to learn and develop cognitively through motion. And it's a super special product. If you you haven't seen it. You can go on YouTube and see all kinds of really terrific videos that'll just bring tears to your eyes.

Sylvia-HomeExplorer Mini

And with the joy of some of these children that previously hadn't really had the opportunity to experience motion and moving towards their mother for the first time on their own and really, really powerful. So that's a special one. It's one that's near and dear to our hearts. We launched that earlier this year and it's really been terrific.

We did release a new mid-wheel drive, multi-power chair a couple of months ago now. And it's been really, really popular and comes standard with some of the most powerful led lights that you can get. And a lot of great features. And most recently we've had two product launches really within the last, I don't know, 30 or 40 days, we launched a new seating solution called Hybrid Select, which is a really the, one of the first new products that we've launched from the ROHO brand in quite some time and combines the pressure benefits that, or pressure relief benefits that come from a traditional ROHO cushion with the kind of positioning and stability benefits that we offer through our comfort company cushions.

Hybrid-Select-Lifestyle-SelfieROHO Hybrid Select Cushion

And so that one actually has been, it's kind of exceeded at least my expectations in terms of interest from therapists and users so far. It's really been quite popular. And that's our, maybe our almost most recent. And then most recently we released a new update to our very popular SmartDrive product, which essentially improves the setup and ease of use, I'll say kind of out of the box easy to set up and get going and so we're really excited about that one as well.

kimfetrow2019_DSC_7291SmartDrive with PushTracker E2

So that's kind of rear view. And then as we look forward into the future, of course, we have a lot of stuff coming that we're really excited about in the areas of connectivity and assisted driving and so on coming here in the future. So a lot of great innovation as we try to fulfill our mission of bringing the most modern technology to as you say, help our users reach their dreams.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
See, Chuck, you're hitting me with that technology. You getting me right there, so and I really appreciate that because when we look at where we're at in the tech sphere some questions that ones have posed is the weight of a wheelchair. Will we ever get to a point where power wheelchairs will be made any lighter in the near future? Or maybe battery's not weighing as much with some of the innovation. Or Maybe a green wheelchair or something. Chuck, what is your thoughts on that?

Chuck Witkowski:
Well, absolutely. And weight is certainly something that we're looking at. And of course, if we think about our TiLite brand and our manual wheelchairs, we're obviously really well known for providing weight benefits. And on the power side, I think you're you're right on. I mean, there are a number of new technologies that will certainly change how we think about the power wheelchair in the future and not the least of which is new battery technology, right, that we've kind of seen really mature in the last several years, thanks to folks like Tesla and others. And so I think we'll see in the relative near future, some of those new technologies come into the power wheelchair space. And as you say, really fundamentally change how the platform looks and feels and how easy it is to transport and that sort of thing.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
Every time I use Zoom I mute myself by accident. Isn't that crazy? So, and when we look at other technologies out there, kind of like with autonomous vehicles with machine learning, lidar technology and all these different things. Some of us, I know myself included because I run into walls, sometimes any collision avoidance technology, maybe on the horizon, Chuck, you can share with us?

Chuck Witkowski:
Well no doubt, no doubt. And here we've thought about this through partnerships initially, and there are a number of groups that are doing some really good work, but one that I would point to that we're really excited about is kind of a startup if you will, a smaller company, younger company based here out of Nashville, Tennessee called LUCI, which has really, we're pretty impressed with the sensor platform and the overall user experience that they've developed. There are a number of folks working on this. And I think it's just a, it's probably a matter of months before we see that type of technology become more mainstream.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
I love it. The future is bright. I look back to when I first got injured 27 years ago, and I thought my ride was cool then Chuck, but what we have now when it comes to wheelchairs, I mean, it is definitely, definitely mind blowing and a question that we got from our chat right now, Chuck, and this is something that kind of has prevented me from traveling on planes, because this actually happened to me. And the question is, concerns about power chairs being damaged on airlines. What do they think that you guys can do from a company standpoint and we can do from an advocacy standpoint to, I guess, stop this from happening?

Chuck Witkowski:
Yeah. Yeah, It's a real challenge, right? And obviously it's not an easy one. I think that there are, from a regulatory standpoint, there are some things that can be done to maybe ensure that there are proper provisions in place to store and transport and really secure, right, the chairs during flights, and then some of it's on us as manufacturers, as you said earlier, right? What are we doing to ensure that our chairs are harder to damage? And part of that is reducing weight, providing locking mechanisms and methods to easily secure the chairs during transportation. So it's a really good question. It's not just on airlines, right? It's also in vehicles and other areas, we see these challenges.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
And it's interesting, Chuck, as wheelchair users, sometimes we think it's so easy. "Oh, just do this, just do that. How come the airline just can't take chairs out and have..." But it goes a little bit further than that. And I'm glad that you've shared that with us. And another question that we got that's coming in right now too, Chuck, funding for chairs. Is there things that people can go or places people can go when it comes to funding for chairs? Maybe the insurance doesn't cover all the costs or maybe the person doesn't have insurance. What are some funding options out there that people may not be aware of? If you can speak to that, please.

Chuck Witkowski:
Sure. Well, certainly there are a number of groups and associations and opportunities to help with funding in cases where it's not available. Handful of years ago, we created the Permobil Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and its sole mission is to assist individuals with funding, individuals that need solutions and can't get it funded. So you can look us up on the, look up the Permobil Foundation and you'll see pretty clearly how to get in touch with that group.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
I love it. And, Chuck, is there anything that we, as the disabled community caregivers that you would like to articulate to us, maybe something about Permobil that we may not be aware of or are just something that, that you maybe thought as a team, like, "If we ever get a chance to just let people know this it would really help our relationship." Is there anything out there you'd like to share with ones like that?

Chuck Witkowski:
Oh, man. Now you're going to get me going.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
I opened the flood gates, didn't I?

Chuck Witkowski:
No, I appreciate that. I appreciate that. I mean, right, at the end of the day, we exist to serve our users. And so I would just invite you to, to reach out to us and we're open ears on how we can improve in terms of the technology, the features, there are things that we can help do. Of course, we work with a lot of groups on advocacy, whether it's reimbursement coverage, quality regulation, standards are all areas where we're involved and so we would love to hear from you.

One thing I would love to make our users aware of on the power side in particular is we have an application called My Permobil, which is an app that you can download and we are continuing to increase the, kind of the functionality through the app today with our new chairs, you can, it's pretty cool, you can monitor your battery health and actually see kind of how many miles and distance that you have left on your charge. But we're integrating of course, with maps and there's just a tremendous amount of functionality that we can provide.

But probably I think the most powerful potentially is to provide that communication vehicle back from our users. Right? And so if you haven't seen it yet, please check it out. It's free. You can set your settings however you want in terms of what you might want to share, but it's really powerful. And it's really our way of being able to connect directly with you.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
I love that and Chuck, we appreciate it all that you guys do over at Permobil and that's why me as a member of the community and a voice, I always tell my community, if you have a situation, don't crank it up to 10 when you get somebody on the phone. Start off at one. Keep it at about one to three and things can be done, but sometimes we crank it up to 10, man.

So we'll do our part too, Chuck, to keep us at bay so we can communicate and we can listen to each other, but we appreciate that. And Chuck you're really popular in the question rooms. Here's a question, and we may not get to everyone's question. Here's another question, Chuck. What is the height of the new Hybrid Select cushion?

Chuck Witkowski:
Oh gosh. Yeah. I'm sure I did that in my training, but I'm not sure I remember it off hand. So maybe-

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
Tell them to go to the website. Tell them to go to the website, right?

Chuck Witkowski:
Go to the website. We'll have, there's actually really cool videos that show exactly how it works and the inner workings of the Hybrid Select and we'll show all the specifications. I should know that then I don't. Good question.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
No, Chuck, you got people that know that for you, so that's what I'm talking about. That's called, what'd you call it? Delegation. You know what I mean? So no worries at all. So here's a tech question. Is there Apple Watch support coming for the smart drive?

Chuck Witkowski:
Yes, there is. That is in our roadmap and it will be coming. Absolutely.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
All right. Another question. Does Permobil have any rear-wheel drive chairs?

Chuck Witkowski:
We do not. And that's not really a segment that we've focused on recently. And we're pretty strong on the front-wheel drive and the front-wheel drive segment, as well as mid-wheel and feel pretty strongly about the unique benefits that both of those configurations provide. But no, rear wheel is not an area where we have an offering at this time.

Paul Amadeus Lane: 
Yeah. And I'm so glad you that. Oops. Did I say that out loud? I mean, because once you get a mid-wheel drive chair, I remember when I first got mine, Chuck. The person who came out, Tommy, who worked for you guys for many years and he told me, he said, "I know you used to the regular drive chairs, but once you get mid-wheel you're going to be fine." I was like, "Ah, whatever." No, but I'll never go back because you can maneuver things, you can turn. I mean, yeah, that's just me speaking my own personal experience.

Okay. Here we go. One last question. How can someone get support for repairs if they're having trouble with their vendor?

Chuck Witkowski:
Yeah, it's a tough one. Right? So obviously we don't do repairs. We're not staffed really to provide chairs and do the repairs ourselves. We work through our provider partners, both national and local. If you're having a difficult time getting in touch with them, I would say, feel free to reach out to us and our team will try to find a vendor that will be responsive to you, and we know it can be a challenge sometimes. So that's probably the best guidance I can provide.

Paul Amadeus Lane:
Awesome. Awesome, Chuck. We got about less than a minute left. I wish we can have more time, but my work wife for this weekend is yelling at me to wrap it up, so I'm going to have to wrap it up. So, please take this remaining time to let ones know how they can get in contact with Permobil and anything else you want to leave with some closing thoughts?

Chuck Witkowski:
Well, again, I just want to give a shout out to our extended Permobil family, all of our users and fans out there. We miss you. I know our teams talk daily about we miss the interaction, the in-person interaction, and can't wait until we can kind of get back 3D if you will and interact with you. And please, if you need to get in touch with us, you can go to our websites and right there, there's a contact us link. Please feel free to use it and we look forward to hearing from you and until we meet again, stay safe and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Paul Amadeus Lane:
Hey, thank you so much. And please tell the guys that we normally see at the Abilities Expo working on our chairs, please tell them we miss them dearly and tell them all that they do for us we really, truly appreciate it. And, Chuck, I'm looking forward to geeking out with you real soon. All right?

Chuck Witkowski:
You got it, buddy. You got it.

Paul Amadeus Lane:
Sounds good. Well, Hey everyone, go check out the product demos in our virtual rooms. Go visit our vendors like Permobil. Go have a great old time, but do me a favor, come here in about 10 minutes. We're going to talk about the history of closed captioning. We're going to have a blast talking about that with an expert in the field. So we'll be right back in about 10 minutes. See you soon.

 


About Permobil

Permobil founder Dr Per Uddén believed that helping people achieve the greatest level of independence is a basic human right and, for over 50 years, Permobil has held fast to that belief. Permobil is proud to be the global leader in advanced clinical rehabilitation technology, and we are dedicated to better understanding our users’ needs and improving their quality of life through state-of-the-art healthcare solutions. Today, these solutions include the most advanced power wheelchairs, seating and positioning products, power assist, and manual wheelchairs. Permobil is owned by Patricia Industries, a subsidiary of Investor AB, and is headquartered in Sweden. Permobil has 1,600 team members in more than 15 countries around the world. For more information regarding the company’s storied history and complete product line visit permobil.com.

About Abilities Virtual Experience

The Abilities Virtual Experience is here to connect you with the disability-focused resources you need from the comfort of your living room. Register for free here for the next Abilities Virtual Experience happening March 26-17, 2021.


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