Don't neglect manuals

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I read, with interest, the recent article on complex rehab in HME News, and I am inspired to add some of my thoughts and experience on the subject. Over the past year, I have noticed that virtually every article regarding “complex rehab” is written from the perspective that “complex rehab” is comprised solely of Group 3 power wheelchairs. This focus exclusively on power wheelchairs ignores the vast improvements in the technology available for manual wheelchair users. More importantly, it ignores the successful rehabilitation outcomes that manual chairs can now offer for users of manual chairs.

Technology keeps moving forward in manual mobility products, just as it does in computers, automobiles and power wheelchairs. In fact, there are more users of complex manual wheelchairs returning to “normal” lifestyles than users of complex power wheelchairs.

In the case of the continual development of the functional manual wheelchair, there have been additions of space age materials, bicycle technologies, more and better use of the basic sciences of physics, and biomechanics to assist the user in more efficient propulsion techniques. Those users who used the older and heavier cold rolled steel wheelchairs independently are the ones now that suffer damage to upper body joints and may be propelling themselves into power chairs in the future. However, those users who have received the benefits of sub 50-pound chairs since the onset of disability are now privy to sub 20-pound chairs that are built to fit their bodies like a combination prosthetic/orthotic device. Better fit means better mobility.

The greatest benefit of all to the user of today’s manual chair is the confidence it instills. We see many end users these days on the streets, in the airports, involved in sports and recreation, and of all things, back to work! Isn’t it a privilege to have a job and contribute to your own independence and lifestyle? One of the greatest benefits to the wheelchair user through rehabilitation is reintegration to society.

That is what today’s complex rehab manual wheelchairs offer to users. It is not the appliance, but the results offered by the use of the technology that is most important. At a minimum they should not be forgotten in the discussion of complex rehab and better yet, all complex rehab equipment should be carved out of DME.

-- Mary Ball, TiLite, Kennewick, Wash.