Sometimes a simple, innovative concept can completely change someone’s life for the better. At the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab’s Center for Bionic Medicine in Chicago, engineers have developed a manual wheelchair that allows users to either sit or rise to a standing position. It’s an invention that could have a very positive impact on the lives of the 1.7 million Americans that currently use wheelchairs or scooters for mobility.
The Manual Standing Wheelchair (MSW)’s design consists of a rotating hand drive mechanism that allows users to manually drive while seated or standing, or in any of the positions in between. By pushing on the arm rests, the user can adjust positions between sitting and standing. There’s also a lap belt and knee restraints to prevent falling, and ensure security at all times.
“I can think of many things I can do now that I was not able to do in my wheelchair before. It’s a little bit of independence I did not have before” – wheelchair user Jonathan Annicks told CBS, after testing the new design.
Being able to stand in a wheelchair can have many psychological and physical benefits for the user, as well as increasing freedom and independence. Being able to reach high cupboards and appliances means preparing a meal or a cup of tea for a guest is a whole lot easier. Communicating with people eye to eye instead of from a lower position, and increased independence leading to enhanced employment and leisure opportunities could greatly improve quality of life.
“My feet weren’t getting enough blood flow,” says Jonathan of time spent in his regular wheelchair. “Whenever I am on public transportation or in an elevator, I have butts and book bags in my face. Now, there’s a whole new window of opportunity, of limitations that have been removed and just freedom.”
The MSW’s wheels and chains function like a bicycle, so it provides opportunities for healthy exercise. Users work muscles that they can’t work in a regular wheelchair. Standing reduces the risk of osteoporosis, muscle spasticity and contractors. From an elevated position, the user’s cardiovascular, digestive and renal health improve. Pressure sores from constant sitting can also be relieved or even prevented.
And while some existing wheelchairs on the market do offer standing capabilities, nothing seems to be as versatile and easy to use as the MSW. Some electric and manual wheelchairs allow users to stand while stationary, but they must be seated to move. Powered mobile platforms give the ability to move around in a standing position, but do not allow the person to sit. Furthermore, powered devices are often expensive, bulky and heavy. Currently, there are no commercially available, manual wheelchairs that allow mobility in both standing and sitting positions like the MSW does.
Dr. Todd Kuiken from the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab’s Center for Bionic Medicine began working on the concept 30 years ago. With the help of his team of engineers and doctors, and funding from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), Kuiken has developed the MSW to where it is today. And it’s almost market ready, with only a few design adjustments to be made. Right now the MSW weighs 55 pounds, with hopes to cut that down to approximately 35 pounds. The team hopes to have it made commercially available in 2 years time.
In the meantime, the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab is looking for more wheelchair users to test it out. To participate in the study, you must have a spinal cord injury and currently be using a manual wheelchair. For more information, contact: Saninder Kaur, MD (Skaur@ricres.org, T: 312-238-2288) or Lori McGee-Koch (email@example.com, T: 312-238-2091).
Visit www.sralab.org to find out more on the MSW.