As an occupational therapist working in seating clinics, it was important for me to prescribe equipment that met as many of my clients’ needs as possible. The more I focused on their needs, the more I understood that providing even the best ultra-lightweight manual wheelchair still meant there would be some tradeoffs. For me, this was a daunting task at times, but there was nothing better than hearing a client say that their new ultra-lightweight manual wheelchair “feels like it’s a part of me.”
In my role as the Director of Product Marketing for Permobil Manual products, I feel a strong pull to continue to educate and help others. I admit, it took some time and effort to develop my ultra-lightweight wheelchair prescription skills, but they are skills that can be learned by any therapist or equipment provider. So please buckle in, because over the next six months or so we are going to focus most of our manual product blogs on the choices people (i.e. therapists, providers, & end-users) have to make to improve manual mobility outcomes.
All manual wheelchairs are not made the same, and there are many considerations when selecting one. An ultra-lightweight manual wheelchair needs to be lightweight, durable, and most of all configured to meet the unique shape of the individual. Being lightweight provides not only a chair that is easier to push, but also a chair that is easier to pick up (e.g. transfers in/out of the car). A durable ultra-lightweight manual wheelchair gives the person in the chair peace of mind that their wheelchair will stand up to their daily demands.Lastly, and what I would argue is most important, are the configuration options (how the chair is made-to-measure). This allows the therapist and ATP to match a product to the person’s unique shape and size. The better a wheelchair chair fits a person, the better that chair will react to the forces applied to it. Finding the optimal balance between these three characteristics (i.e. lightweight, durability, configuration) is how you design a wheelchair to be a balanced extension of the person using the device. And it’s not just Permobil who knows this. We did a survey of nearly 400 therapists and equipment providers, and they said the same thing! Configuration, lightweight and durability were top rated characteristics as you can see below.
Configuration was ranked as the number 1 attribute by the largest proportion of people, followed by lightweight and then configuration.
The TiLite name is synonymous with terms like “made-to-measure” and “tailored fit” and that is because we are the only major manufacturer in the US and Canada who builds each ultra-lightweight manual wheelchair to order. This is a unique and important differentiator. But what is even more unique to TiLite is that because of our made-to-measure approach, we are able to provide a balanced chair by offering a more optimal combination of these three key characteristics.
Throughout this extended series of blog posts, we will be covering common ultra-lightweight manual wheelchair topics that apply to all brands and some that are TiLite specific, and will be releasing new resources related to each topic:
- Frame Material: The first topic we will discuss is how frame materials differ. This will include comparing steel, aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber, as well as comparing different types of the same metal (e.g. 6000 and 7000 series aluminum).
- Frame Type: The second topic will be about different frame types, where we will discuss how the wheelchair shape and design has progressed, and what considerations should be made for each type. Folding frames, rigid frames, custom frames, and adjustable frames will all be covered.
- Configuration: Our third topic will be configuration, where we will break down the process from simple to more complex. The main point of this discussion will be to help demystify the fitting process, explaining how the skill of fitting someone for an ultra-lightweight wheelchair is a skill that can be learned just like any other.
- Creative Mobility Division: Lastly, we will discuss TiLite’s own Creative Mobility Division (CMD, formerly known as “Designs Unlimited”). For people who don’t know about CMD or need a review, we will explain what it is and how it can be used. Then we will also share with you our most popular CMD options and how they have been used to improve specific mobility outcomes.
We also wanted to let you know about a new symbol you will be seeing during the campaign. The goal is to raise awareness about the importance of finding the right balance of lightweight, durability, and configuration and to help keep our efforts focused on the discussion. This symbol will be used on in-service PowerPoint slides, emails, blogs, and social media content.
We look forward to sharing all of this information with you, and hope it leads to some useful conversations for everyone. We are also hopeful that the information and conversation helps more people understand and see the how important it is for the person using the device to be provided with an ultra-lightweight manual wheelchair that is balanced.
One of our clinical educators, Thomas Halka, put it best when he said: “There shouldn’t be a ‘starter’ or ‘first’ chair”. He couldn’t be more right. Instead, our goal should be to achieve a balanced fit for each person, every chair, every time. Hope to talk with you more soon.
Curtis A. Merring, OTR, MOT
Director of Market Development, Manual Products
Mr. Merring received both his undergraduate psychology degree and masters in occupational therapy at the University of Pittsburgh. While at university he was involved in research on multiple studies dealing with psychosocial disorders, wheelchair seating, and neurological recovery of the upper extremity for stroke patients. As an occupational therapist and researcher he was responsible for treating and investigating spinal cord injury and stroke for about 9 years. This included being awarded multiple small grants and coordinating research projects between the clinic and local universities, as well as starting multiple seating clinics. Curtis has also worked as a Director of Therapy Services Skilled Nursing/Long Term Care setting. During his time as a director he developed a program called “Seating System Management in Skilled Nursing Facilities and Long Term Care”, that was a continuing education course he taught to facilities in both Texas and California. Curtis has been working for Permobil for almost 3 years now and is currently Director of Product Marketing for Manual Products and works closely with product development and sales teams to bring to market new products for TiLite and SmartDrive.