I first tested the Freedom Chair in early spring, with snow still on the ground, as the Go Grit team was fundraising to produce their first round of chairs. A couple of us in the Universal Access Program were able to test ride it outside our office and discovered that it could travel over grassy terrain and snow patches with ease. We could even work it up over curbs and handle uneven terrain pretty well. Our landscape was limited though and we didn't have a true user, someone who actually uses a manual wheelchair, to give us what I would consider official feedback.
This fall, we met again with Ben Judge from Grit, at Mt. Tom State Reservation in Holyoke. We invited Joannah Whitney to test drive with us. At first Joannah was a bit skeptical of the design, wanting to maximize the arc of endeavor and use her full abdominal strength as she has become used to doing in rowing. She was frustrated by the center pad in back, seeing it as a limitation to how far she could push back with her abdominal muscles. I had just had a spasm in my mid-back that morning and found the back pad to be a nice solid support. We soon found the back pad to be perfectly placed for uphill travel as it prevents you from leaning too far backwards.
Overall, it is a simple design, propelled by two tall levers which can be easily removed as needed. Where you put your hands on the levers determines how much leverage you get with each pull. I found I liked to keep my hands low going uphill and use quick pushes. You do get some glide from each pull whether traveling level or on a downhill, a feature Joannah especially appreciated. One of the most compelling aspects of the Freedom Chair is that it is designed with bicycle parts so that it can be easily repaired in a bike shop or by anyone with bike mechanic skills. It also stows neatly into the back of a car.
The Freedom Chair sells for $3000, quite a bit less than other all-terrain style manual wheelchairs on the market. It is also made in Massachusetts. We are hoping to see more of these chairs in use in Massachusetts State Parks soon.