That is what engineers at Chicago’s Center for Bionic Medicine in the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab may have achieved with the creation of a manual standing wheelchair that does not limit its users to being stuck sitting down the whole time.
“This is the first manual wheelchair that allows users to move while in both standing and seated positions,” Dr. Todd Kuiken, who led the research, told Digital Trends. “It’s an incredibly exciting innovation that expands users’ workspace and, most importantly, enables them to look their peers straight in the eye during interaction. It offers a number of physical benefits as well.”
The wheelchair’s unique hand drive mechanism lets users manually drive the wheels while sitting or standing, along with any position in between. While they do so, they are safely secured in place using a lap belt and knee restraint to protect against falls. “This wheelchair will be transformative for people who haven’t stood in many years and have only looked up at the world,” Kuiken continued. “It will give them the opportunity to converse, directly and at eye-level, with their peers.”
While most of us take for granted simple acts like looking a coworker in the eye when we speak to them, or reaching overhead cabinets and grocery store shelves, for the 1.7 million Americans who rely on wheelchairs or scooters for mobility, things aren’t so straightforward. As a result, a wheelchair like this one could prove to be a life-changer.
“The wheelchair is ready to be commercialized and we are currently in talks with potential commercial partners,” Kuiken said. “In the meantime, we’re working to continually refine the design.”