Most Innovations in Wheelchair Technology are Bullshit

Published: Oct 05, 2016

I recently came across this in my Twitter feed:

 An image of a woman half‐way out of a swimming pool. Her wheelchair is in front of her. It uses a pair of NuMotion SoftWheels.

Apparently, a new design of wheelchair tire has been released that uses hydraulics to reduce the shock of rough terrain on manual wheelchair users. Sounds pretty cool, right? I thought so when I first heard about it. However, as I started to dig more into the design and how it works, a couple of questions got raised in the back of my mind.

What Happens When it Breaks?

For all intents and purposes, most manual wheelchairs are basically weirdly‐sized bicycles. We have the same tire tube structure, similar wheel sizes, and spoke configurations. I can go into any bike shop and get a lot of repair work done for a fraction of the cost of a shop specifically designed to service wheelchairs.

Look at those tires. They’re made of a series of interconnected hydraulic pistons that help maintain the shape of the wheel. What happens when one of those fails? If I blow a couple of spokes, I’ve got a dozen more to help maintain the wheel’s integrity. If one of these breaks down, I could lose the whole tire. And who the hell is going to repair it? And for how much? Also, don’t hydraulics degrade over time?

Who Is This For, Exactly?

A lot of the promotional materials for these tires show people in their day-chairs. I guess these wheels are for the rough‐riding, mountain dwelling cripples near a fault line? I understand that these tires are meant to act as a kind of suspension, but wheelchair suspension systems have been around for years and aren’t nearly as expensive (more on that later).

Wait, How Much?

The lowest‐end models of the SoftWheel start at $2,650.00. Who the fuck has two grand to drop on a pair of tires for their day chair? I can get a brand‐new ultralight frame for that price.

There’s No Fucking Way Insurance Covers This, Right?

The NuMotion website states:

quote: Most major insurers, including Medicaid only pay for one standard set of wheels, tires, tubes, axels, and hand rims. These wheels are considered an additional set of wheels and will not likely be covered… end quote

When it comes to wheelchair upgrades (and what isn’t considered an upgrade?), insurance doesn’t pay for dick.

So, we have these new tires that:

  • Are harder to repair than normal tires
  • Nobody can afford
  • Will most likely never be covered by insurance

Every wheelchair “innovation” seem to struggle with many of these issues and I’m especially tired of seeing “improvements” made to wheelchairs that nobody can fucking afford and don’t actually solve any problems.