3 Innovations Increasing Mobility for People with Disabilities

By Sam Parker

Users of wheelchairs, walkers and canes are often unable to enjoy the same fluid mobility of others, and because of this, three companies have worked to develop products to help eliminate these issues. Through innovative technologies, three products have been created to assist disabled people with their navigation of everyday life.

Gear-shifting Wheelchair by IntelliWheels

Mobility innovations for people with disabilities IntelliWheels gear shifting wheelchair

IntelliWheels’ Automatic Gear-Shift, a device developed by a three-person team at the University of Illinois, is the first-ever automatic gear-shifting system for manually-propelled wheelchairs.

Built to resemble the gear-shifting systems of bicycles, the Automatic Gear-Shift adjusts appropriately through sensors on the bottom of the wheelchair that measure the torque, speed and tilt that users are traveling. The system is meant to help wheelchair users push further, faster and up steeper hills by minimizing shoulder and upper extremity strain, according to Marissa Siebel, a co-founder of the product.

“The current issues with powered mobility [are] weight, lack of ability for transporting the powered chair in a vehicle, dramatic decrease in physical activity, social barriers and push back from facilities where it may not be safe for an individual to use powered mobility,” Siebel said in an interview with Medgadget. “Each person is different and everyone has specific needs, we fit very well for individuals who are looking to stay out of powered mobility, maintaining their independence in a light weight, low cost solution.”

The team, composed of Siebel, Scott Daigle and Josh George, consulted wheelchair users to determine how to best help those who used manually propelled chairs. Daigle, the brains behind the product, then designed the automated system, which determines the right gear for uphill, downhill and across terrain functions. Daigle chose to make the system automatic so that users would not need to exert extra effort or time when changing gears.

The replacement wheels are packaged in sets of two, and each wheel weighs approximately 5 pounds. The Automatic Gear-Shift is currently not on the market, as the development team is perfecting the product through user feedback and advice. However, interested consumers can sign up on the company’s website to use the product.

Flexible Feet for Canes, Crutches and Walkers

Mobility innovations for people with disabilities flexible grip feet for hiking walking for canes crutches and walkers

Providing up to 50 percent more grip and stability to users of canes, crutches and walkers, the Flexyfoot works as a suspension system for the disabled. By absorbing the shock of each step, the polypropylene Flexyfoot cushions one’s journey across slippery or uneven terrain.

“Flexyfoot uses the unique integral hinge properties of polymers,” the product’s website states. “When correctly designed, the molecules in a polypropylene hinge align themselves across the hinge line, making it almost indestructible. The more the hinge area is flexed, the stronger it becomes.”

Created by David Goodwin, the Flexyfoot consists of a collar, foot and wear marker. It grants users full twist and turn capabilities as its base can independently rotate through 360 degrees. The product’s ferrule, or bottom cap, does not attract stones or grit, so consumers need not worry about the typical black marks that most ferrules leave on the floor.

Flexyfoot can withstand 25 below zero temperatures without cracking, and according to its website, “Customer feedback says that Flexyfoot lasts around four to eight times longer than a standard ferrule.” Feedback also showed consumers felt more secure and less likely to slip, particularly in wet weather, when using Flexyfoot ferrules.

The product is available in four different collar sizes: 16, 19, 22 or 25 millimeters, and two colors, gray and orange. Available online, the product sells for about $27 per “foot.”

Wheelchair skis

Mobility innovations for people with disabilities skies for wheelchair

Though the small, front wheels of wheelchairs can easily glide over pavement, they are inefficient in wintery conditions and sink deeply into snow or ice, making travel difficult during winter months. To cure this problem, inventor Patrick Mayer developed Wheel Blades, mini-ski attachments that clip onto the front wheels of wheelchairs to provide better fluidity over frozen ground.

Mayer, a paraplegic who has depended on a wheelchair for 11 years, said the idea behind Wheel Blades stemmed from his need to travel outside during the winter. “The best part is simply the new feeling of freedom,” Mayer said of his product. “The feeling that one is not, in addition to physical disability, also hindered by external circumstances. The feeling of being able to enjoy the winter.”

With one-click, the lightweight blades mount the thin wheels and with an adjustable clamp, the product is able to cover wheel widths from 1 to 6 centimeters, according to the Wheel Blades website. The wide bases of the blades evenly distribute the weight of the wheelchair and its user to prevent sinking, and their mounts are located in the front portions of the skis to ensure they are always facing the desired direction.

Made to withstand bumps and rocky terrains, Wheel Blades are durable and break-resistant with sets of grooves underneath the bindings to ensure stability. However, Mayer notes that wheelchair users should use winter tires in conjunction with the blades in order to ensure maximum mobility. Mayer warns Wheel Blades are not intended for athletic use but are instead most efficient when applied at walking speeds.

Mayer is accepting donations to raise money for mass production. The Wheel Blades are expected to be on the market in October for about $245 per pair.

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