Researchers add ‘teeth’ to standards for wheelchairs

‘We want to translate standards into strategies and techniques for selecting products based on performance’
 - 
Friday, November 10, 2017

PITTSBURGH – Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have secured a nearly $5 million grant to continue their work developing standards to improve product quality and safety for wheelchairs.

Wheelchair quality and safety are a growing problem, the researchers say, with about 50% of users saying they have experienced a breakdown in a six-month period, according to research they have already conducted.

“This grant allows us to have a real impact,” said Jon Pearlman, an associate professor at UPitt. “In the research community, you’re often awarded grants for thinking outside the box and for working on products that might be realistic in 10 years. This is more practical.”

The “Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center” grant, awarded by the National Institute on Disability, a federal government agency within the U.S. Department of Education, will provide more than $900,000 each year for five years.

Researchers plan to spend the first few years of the grant improving or adding to existing standards, particularly related to cushion load-bearing performance, cushion durability, caster durability, and wheel rolling resistance, and the remaining few years applying those standards to different products.

“We want to show the differentiations between products and the usefulness of that information,” said Patricia Karg, an assistant professor at UPitt. “We want to translate standards into strategies and techniques for selecting products based on performance.”

The problem with existing standards, which have been developed over decades by national and international standards committees: They’re largely influenced by product manufacturers, the researchers say.
“The awarding of this grant will allow for some unbiased participation,” said David Brienza, a professor and associate dean of research at UPitt. “Manufacturers have a large stake in standards and how they’re developed, and they support the process. This balances that process.”

Ultimately, the researchers envision their work being used in several ways, including helping funding sources make reimbursement decisions, and clinicians, providers and users make product decisions.

“It’s in this way that standards, which are often voluntary and which until now didn’t differentiate between products, will get teeth,” Brienza said.