Case Management, Elder Care Management, Life Care Plan, Medical Consultation

3D Printed Personalized Wheelchairs Are Here

 February 10, 2017

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

When most people think of a wheelchair, they most likely have the same image of a one-size-fits-all piece of equipment. Unfortunately, disabilities are far less predictable and the same can be said for the individuals who have them. That is why we, as advocates, are constantly drawn to modern technology’s vast capacity for personalization. Technology like 3-D printing has placed a seemingly unlimited means of production in the hands of everyday people. It is now being applied to the needs of individuals with disabilities, in the form of the 3D-printed wheelchair.

The research division of a design studio by the name Layer interviewed wheelchair users and medical professionals over a span of two years in order to come up with a product as sleek as its name: GO. It is hard to associate this innovation with medical devices or the infirm. When these designers personalize, they truly have the person in mind. It is hard to see anything but the user. In other words, it is difficult to see the disability.

How does it work?

Each user’s biometric information is mapped, resulting in 3D digital data. The seat and foot-bay are thus customized so that the person’s body weight, shape and disability match the consumer, who can actively participate in its design via an accompanying phone app. The result is more like a prosthetic, a limb that is supposed to be there, albeit with wheels. The seats are made of resin and plastic material for optimal shock absorption. While conventional wheelchairs pay no mind to a user’s center of gravity, that feature is at the…well…center of this design. The sheer fact that our clients can also share their sense of style just brings grins to us all.

Who does it help?

There isn’t enough space here to get into the needs of each individual and how Go can be tailored to them. However, we do know a thing or two about disabilities and how the 3-D printed wheelchair can be molded to their respective needs. For example, we have worked extensively for individuals suffering from SCI, or spinal cord injuries. Loss of all mobility, among other functions, does quite a number on a man or woman’s sense of personhood. One thing guaranteed is these are people that will have feedback if you are looking for it. A taller seat back is but one suggestion that Layer’s design team could easily accommodate. Coming from a history of listening to the finer pain points and frustrations of our clients, it is nothing short of heartening to know that designers incorporate such information in their work.

Imagine if Tony Stark hung up his Iron Man suit and devoted himself full time to building wheelchairs and other accommodations for the disabled. Designers are tinkerers. This means that even as this is being written, the “Mark 2” of Layer’s 3-D printed wheelchair is being conceived. Advocating for the disabled may be our life’s work but when it allows us to visit the cutting edge, it’s hard not to see it as an incredible perk. Be sure to visit Layer’s site for more breathtaking, people-centered designs. For more information on what we do, drop us a line right here.

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