I have been enamored with e-motion power assist wheelchair rims the moment I laid eyes on them. That was years ago. They never seemed like a real possibility with all of my massive power wheelchair use, but now that I’m a demoing power assist wheelchairs I knew I’d finally get a shot to try them. And that is exactly what happened yesterday.
A local medical supply company loaned me the e-motion wheels to demo at home, and I decided to take them to the mall. What better place to roll around on a flat surface? You might as well make the experience serve double duty. My boyfriend was kind enough to transfer me into the chair midday, which is a big deal for someone who stays in their power chair typically for 10 to 14 hours straight. Felt good!
And I knew I wouldn’t be able to drive my van being that I was in the manual wheelchair (there’s a lock on my power wheelchair that keeps me in place and it can’t be transferred onto another chair without a professional), so my boyfriend also drove me to the mall. This is where it got interesting. For starters, upon leaving my place I felt instantly weird.
Instead of putting my hand on my joystick to zoom ahead, I was using both arms and pushing. It was great, but odd. I was able to push like I was Mrs. Buff lady, but sadly after about 20 feet of pushing, I was already hoping the wheels would pick up more of the slack, but they weren’t. Within 5 minutes I was already missing my powerchair. This was not a good sign.
But I stuck with it. God knows I’ve gotten weaker in my arms these 24 years of using a power wheelchair. I may eat healthy and do the occasional workout, but I do not use my left arm as much as my right everyday, which has taken its toll over the years. When I was pushing the wheelchair with both of my arms I could really tell. It was hard, but I pushed through. This chair is definitely good at giving you a great workout if you’re an out-of-shape C5-6 quad.
As I pushed myself down to the van, another thing occurred that wasn’t the greatest – pushing up the ramp was hard too. Oh noes! I didn’t have enough strength to get the wheelchair going up it. I do know that the e-motion wheels are reprogrammable. Perhaps if we had the time to reprogram it, it would’ve responded more aggressively on the ramp.
So once again I was assisted, and was pushed up the ramp. After we got to the mall, I needed help getting down the ramp and then I was off, pushing myself across the street and into the store. I even got myself over the threshold from outside into the store. Once I was inside the mall, although it felt cool to push myself, it still felt very dysphoric; unnerving even. Being in a power wheelchair for over 20 years has really done a number on my psyche. I felt naked and vulnerable without my power chair even though I was pushing myself quite ok through the hallways of Macy’s.
The tech details of the e-motion are quite impressive however. There’s a sensor and lithium battery in each wheel and when you touch the rim and push forward, the sensors are activated and begin to propel the wheelchair in a forward motion. The wheelchair however does not go extremely fast, so it is not ideal for anyone looking to use it in a speedy way. It was fun however to feel like a paraplegic, which is what using all of these power assist wheels is like.
The sensors in the wheels are a bit touchy however. Sometimes when I would push one wheel too hard, it would fling me too far to the left or right; definitely not something I was trying to do. I’m sure this setting can be adjusted too. I know with some practice, the finesse to pushing it with both arms may kick in.
And I do love how easy it is to turn them on. There is a big plastic gray circle in the center of each wheel. You can press it anywhere with your knuckle and it will turn the wheel on. Hit it again and it will turn off. These wheels in general are extremely easy to use, but they do need to be charged every night. To charge, you plug an individual charger into each wheel.
The e-motion wheels also cost approximately $6,000. I know…spendy, but many insurance plans cover them. I love how they can go on existing wheelchairs too. You gotta love this versatility aspect, especially if your manual wheelchair breaks. Also, having a power assist manual chair setup will make traveling cost less (no van rental is required), as well as easier for international vacations (you can get lifted into inaccessible locales MUCH easier). But are e-motion the answer for little ‘ol me?
After yesterday’s demo and realizing my arms aren’t as strong as I thought they were, I’m not sure. I do know I’m adding a folding power wheelchair to the demo list (the KD). This doesn’t mean I’m giving up on ever being able to push myself, but sensor push rims may not be the tech for me. Or maybe I’m just being a wimp.
** Stay tuned for the next saga on either SmartDrive or Twion.
What do you think of the e-motion wheels?
Photo courtesy of Alber