Q&A: Complex manual wheelchairs

Sunday, May 31, 2009

KENNEWICK, Wash.--The complex manual wheelchair market seems to be suffering from an image crisis. The general public continues to think of complex manual wheelchairs as sports chairs, designed for serious athletes. As a result, these chairs are often underutilized - to the detriment of end users, according to TiLite Vice President of Sales Marty Ball.

HME News: So the complex manual wheelchair market is often overlooked?

Marty Ball: Complex manual wheelchairs have, at times, been overlooked or maybe not seen as the fantastic mobility devices that they really are. There are times when a power chair is chosen instead of a  manual chair because of the popularity of power.

hme: Why is that the case?

Ball: There may be some misunderstanding by the team recommending a wheelchair. If the client fits the criteria for power, it may be an either/or scenario. Some users feel it will be easier to get around if they have power mobility, but that is not always the case. Transportation is a large issue with a heavy power chair, as is maintenance. Today’s high-end manual chair is as advanced as a fine bicycle and much more maneuverable indoors.

hme: Who is the typical user of a complex manual wheelchair?

Ball: The typical user is changing because people who see manual wheelchairs as sports chairs are realizing that they’re not just sports chairs. A lot of older folks are finding out they’re just high performance daily chairs.

hme: How has technology evolved in the complex manual wheelchair market?

Ball: Today, whenever possible, we fit chairs to the user, rather than the user to the chair. Space age materials, computer-aided design (CAD) systems, and tools and assembly processes are keys.

hme: Isn’t the industry still waiting for new codes for manual wheelchairs?

Ball: Coding is a challenge since all people do not fit into a code. I envision a system where all manual mobility products will have codes - many more than there are now. But the real question may be reimbursement. Insurance companies get away with a lot and see only how they can benefit, not how the beneficiary can regain a “normal” life again.