Armed with the information I’d learned in Buying A Used Accessible Van, Part 1, I headed down to the dealer.
For a while after my Dad arrived here on the east coast, I was able to use a Multi-Lift transfer system in my sedan to move him from his wheelchair into my car. When that was no longer practical, I began to think about a wheelchair accessible van. I’d seen them everywhere, of course, but had never really looked at them in detail, so I began by going back to the dealer who had sold me the Multi-Lift.
Trips are a big deal at my dad’s nursing home. The recreation department does a great job of scheduling a variety of outings that otherwise home-bound residents can enjoy. Finding the right venue can be a challenge sometimes, though. Take the pizza outing, for example.
We’ve been having an unusually mild winter this year on the east coast, and our current storm is only the second major one of the season. There’s been very little snow shovelling this year, and very little weather-related inconvenience. Under normal conditions, though, here in the mid-Atlantic area, we often spend most of the season dealing with ice, rather than snow, and a fair amount of ice-related bother.
Back in California, I had a terrible time convincing Dad to buy the first wheelchair. No way he wanted it or even wanted to think about it. He was falling like crazy though — sometimes managing to bruise both of us in the process — very unstable, and short on stamina. Just getting him into and out of a car was adventure enough — we were really in trouble when we finally got to the doctor’s office, and going much of anywhere else just didn’t work well.
You probably know this type of wheelchair — it’s light, with small wheels, and designed to fold up fairly compactly for travel. At the Guggenheim Museum in New York last month I met a woman in a similar chair, but with a difference — hers had gears attached to the sides so that she could propel the chair herself.
She was delighted to talk about the chair, which was an old Convaid model, now discontinued. She’d used it for years, and still loved it — it did everything a travel chair does, but also gave her the autonomy everyone wants.
Research on AbleData suggests that the model is the Convaid Compax Self-Drive (” . . . has a self-propulsion mechanism consisting of two plastic- coated handrims located on either side of the chair above the rear wheels and a positive belt drive connecting the rims to the rear wheels . . .”), discontinued, apparently, in 2004.
So the question is, why was it discontinued? Anyone out there have any idea? Anyone else have any experience with it?
Late in the summer, we took my dad to a local folk music festival, not quite sure what we’d encounter bathroom-wise at a park with no permanent amenities where a large crowd was expected. Hedging our bet, we took along a male urinal (the standard urine bottle available at any drugstore), which worked out just fine.
Much to everyone’s surprise, my dad not only survived his transfer from the west coast to a nursing home on the east coast, but he thrived. It wasn’t long before I began looking for ways to get him out and about — not just to doctors, but so that he could get to know the area around the home and have at least a bit of the sense of freedom that he had had when living at home.
You Can Take It With You
Coolest not-yet-existing product at the WCD Expo? The ATRS system — essentially a conversion van which uses remote control to return your wheel chair to its docking point inside your van. ‘ATRS’ stands for ‘Automated Tranport and Retrieval System.’
The system is expected to include Freedom Lift’s Freedom Seat, the Tracker with Dock ‘n’ Lock with the ATRS. The Freedom Seat lifts, rotates, and lowers outside a vehicle next to a wheelchair for a side-to-side transfer, and re-entry into the vehicle. The Tracker is a wheelchair lift with a locking/docking component (Dock ‘n’ Lock).
These two items (three, if you count the Dock ‘n’Lock as separate) are available now, but the cool part is the ATRS — the software and hardware that Freedom Sciences has developed to use the Freedom Seat and the Tracker as parts of a remote control system. This system will allow you to roll up in your chair, transfer to the Freedom Seat and remotely send your wheelchair from the front vehicle door to the Tracker, load it onto the Tracker, dock it, slide it into the vehicle and stow it — all while you’re sitting in your van (mini or otherwise).
That’s cool enough, but the kicker is that the Freedom Seat and Tracker don’t require any drilling for installation — they install in the existing manufacturer slots for the OEM seats. Yes, you can take it with you . . . this conversion can follow you from van to van, reducing the cost of conversion considerably over time.
At the moment, cost of the system and van is estimated at more or less the cost of a full conversion van, so (and assuming this is still true when it becomes available) the initial cost won’t be any saving, but should add up as vans get replaced.
It won’t be for everyone, but for those who can use it, this system, with its fabulous robotic component, could offer unparalled freedom for many, along with the opportunity to ride and drive in a fully-tested safer automotive seat. Launch is set for spring 2007.
I have high hopes for this baby. In defiance of all previous known manufacturer/developer practices, the engineers are actually using the system themselves — in a (gasp!) wheelchair, just as if they expected it to work the way they’re designing it. Way-to-go guys!
Attaching it isn’t the most intuitive process around, but once on board, it rotates to any angle, and is absolutely secure. It’s worked great on my dad’s wheelchair, and I’ve used it happily on several strollers as well.