people using wheelchairs

Individuals using wheelchairs may not be sitting still much longer.

Design enhancements are coming from several quarters that expand possibilities for people using wheelchairs.

CBS News aired a story Jan. 17 about the latest and greatest iteration of a standing wheelchair. It shows a user in a gym easily maneuvering his compact chair from a sitting to a standing position and then shooting a basketball through a hoop twice.

Standing wheelchairs give users more autonomy and independence, but the greater benefits may be to the user’s physiology.

Many doctors consider immobility to be the “new cancer” that’s slowly killing too many people.

Standing promotes bone health and muscle strengthening, improves respiratory function, enhances bladder and bowel function, and reduces the threat of contractures.

“The human body is designed to be upright,” said Erin Neuland, a physical therapist at The International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore told Rehab Management magazine. “Our bones, muscles, organs and nervous system function optimally when either walking or standing.”

Scientific research shows that upright mobility improves outcomes for patients in physical therapy, she said.

The newest standing wheelchairs offer multiple functions, including sit-to-stand and seated transfers. Inventor Dean Kamen is working on an electronic one that is highly intuitive – allowing the user to move when reaching forward and leaning back. The iBot can even climb stairs!

Design of prone standers is also improving to add premium adjustability and increased utility.

Ever popular power wheelchairs -- which perform well under many indoor and outdoor conditions -- are also getting new features like easy-touch switches and chin booms with joysticks.

Not all of the newer features are all that high tech. Methods are now available that custom-mold seats to fit people using wheelchairs with structural deformities. These seats make wheelchairs more comfortable and functional for users who need them.

Another exciting wrinkle: Wheelchairs are being designed to connect with their user’s computer keyboard and environmental controls through Bluetooth and joystick technology. 

The wheelchair becomes part of the interface that allows users to turn off the television, turn on the lights, unlock doors and answer the telephone.

That’s a whole lot more than a ride.