Monday, November 29, 2010

The Importance of Field Testing

Heading out to test the Renegade wheelchair at Mt. Tom.
This month I've been involved in field testing a variety of adaptive recreation equipment to better understand what items we're considering for purchase in DCR's Universal Access Program. Over the years I've learned that it is vital to test equipment prior to purchase and observe people with disabilities testing products and get their feedback. Products can seem like the perfect solution at first glance, but may not always work well for everyone. This post offers a few insights into the process and three products we've been field testing, as mentioned in recent posts.

It is harder for some people to adjust to a different way of doing something familiar that new equipment entails. This alone can be an obstacle to success. Plan to spend some time just getting used to new motions the body may need to make to adapt, in an easy environment before expecting instant results. Some may get the hang of it immediately, take off, and really be able to test the equipment. Many will find starting slowly and getting some good instruction by someone who really knows the equipment most productive. In some cases having such an instructor also using the equipment so that they can demonstrate technique is essential.

With the FreeWheel, I found that the first wheelchair I tested it on was well-suited to show the dramatic effect the FreeWheel can have on making travel over level but irregular terrain much easier. If your wheelchair has solid, small, narrow wheels on the front castors, you'll have that experience too, since those castors can be quite a hindrance at the smallest blip in the landscape.  If you have good sized, inflated castor wheels, as two individuals did that I had test the FreeWheel, you may not gain a significant enough effect to inspire continued use. I found this product challenging to attach correctly to the particular wheelchair I had, so it can be more technical to set up than one might expect, yet others may be able to attach quite quickly and go, as advertised. The FreeWheel is relatively affordable and the designer is available to consult on attaching and using, 2 big pluses with a product that can expand possibilities in urban and suburban environments.

The Renegade Wheelchair is a serious commitment to purchase and I would highly recommend testing first. This chair can really open up the natural landscape for some, who may take it "for miles" to quote one user, while others may find it too strenuous to get far, and still others may use it to build their strength and endurance. The chair is heavy for some at 50 pounds, but the trade-off comes in the amazing stability of the design, so that cross slopes are comfortably navigated. It may take awhile to learn the techniques and use the chair most effectively. I like the way you can rest in it easily if you get tired going up a hill. The designer of the Renegade is also accessible for consultation and will customize the chair to suit your particular needs, which includes a rear outrigger to prevent tipping backwards and multiple types of attachments for different items you might like to use while out in the woods. With this one, so much depends on the user and the type of terrain they plan to access. Check out our recent testing on YouTube!

The first person I tested SideStix with turned out to prefer straight arm crutches, so I learned that this is a significant factor. If you already use forearm crutches, you are probably a better candidate for SideStix. My first tester couldn't do their preferred swing gait with SideStix, which slowed him down. The designer did inform me that the rotating/articulating tip may not be needed for those with a four point gait - such as my test person with spina bifida had - because energy is lost with forward movement with two legs. Since SideStix are designed by someone with one leg, if you have one leg you may get optimum use from this design. Not being a crutch user and having a tendency toward upper body inflammation, I gained a lot of appreciation for the physical adaptations made by those who walk with crutches when I tested SideStix myself. We are still looking for people who use forearm crutches to continue our SideStix testing and look forward to using them with snow attachments in our winter programs at the Weston Ski Track in February. If you'd like to take advantage of trying our adjustable demo set sooner, give me a call at 413-545-5758.

Thanks to Brenda Davies, Dave Winn, Jim Brooks, Bob Adams, Charlie Croteau, Dave Lee, Gigi Ranno, Tom McCarthy and Sue Tracy for helping us test and better understand these exciting products. Thanks to John Nunan of Alpha One for the YouTube video of our Renegade field test at Mt. Tom State Reservation in Holyoke.


toemailer said...

So many variables to consider, good thing there are people like you around! said...

If you’re a forearm crutch user you might be interested in SideStix new line-up of forearm crutches.

SideStix are the first modular forearm crutches which significantly reduce joint compression and secondary injuries that often result from long-term crutch use.

Our damper shock-absorbing system and rotating/articulating tips accommodate the natural movements of the joints, and the ergonomic forearm and grips support the upper extremities, to enable walking comfortably for long distances.

SideStix™ interchangeable tips provide a safe and effective means to travel on ice, sand, snow, and streets promoting an active and healthy lifestyle.

All of our products undergo extensive testing to ensure we only produce the highest quality forearm crutches available today. You can check out the full story and out complete line-up of forearm crutches and accessories at or contact us toll-free at 1-877-464-7849.

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Chauncey said...

Hopefully we get to see more of these in the field durring the summer.