We caught up with Chris, our technical specialist, to talk about our latest wheelchair design.

Motivation's Pioneer folding three-wheeler is being user tested in Colombia so Chris, our technical specialist visited to find out how it fits with their everyday lives.

Hi Chris! Can you tell us a bit about your trip?

The purpose was to carry out a final field evaluation of the Pioneer folding three-wheeler. It fills a gap identified by our partners and regional teams for a wheelchair that crosses over different environments - from rural, to peri-urban, to central urban spaces.

We wanted to create something that is more manoeuvrable, but still has excellent stability over uneven terrain, and can be folded for better storage and transport in vehicles. We know that globally, urban environments can be just as challenging as rural environments for wheelchair accessibility.

This field evaluation was a final check to make sure that the wheelchair is performing properly, and the functionality we designed into it is working adequately for the users. It also acts as a last opportunity to identify any problems. The only way to do this is to have a range of people using the wheelchair on a daily basis in their own environments for a set period of time.

Who was involved in the trial?

The field evaluation was carried out with one of Motivation’s international partners the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The staff in their national office in Colombia were keen to help facilitate the trial with ORTHOSANDER, one of their local wheelchair service partners in the city of Bucaramanga (in the north eastern Santander region in Colombia).

We had a wide range of users in the trial representing both male and female, old and young, different disability types and from urban, peri-urban and rural locations, in and around Bucaramanga.

How did you get feedback from the participants of the trial?

First we carried out an initial training session with the technical and clinical staff teams at ORTHOSANDER and the ICRC. We covered assembly and product familiarisation so that they could then carry out the prescription, product set-up, fitting, quality control and user training steps with each trial participant.

The users filled in a questionnaire giving their initial thoughts on the Pioneer and some comparison to their original wheelchair. They were also asked to keep a diary of thoughts on any aspect of the performance of the wheelchair. Ideally this would be at least on a weekly basis, so that they would be able to remember useful details of the experience and bring constructive insight to the group discussion day at the end of the evaluation period.

What was your personal highlight from the trip?

Seeing how engaged the two groups were throughout the whole process was a highlight. Especially during the group discussion. There was a real sense of peer support when they were discussing their use of the wheelchair – they gave each other advice on getting the most out of it, but also were able to disagree with each other on some points. And where there was a general consensus of feedback among the group, regardless or gender or age, I could see definite and clear ways to enhance the design.

That’s a real positive for me as I knew which performance and design areas I needed to focus on, i.e. upgrading to quick release wheel axles, adding foot straps, and looking at ways to make folding easier. This consensus also allowed us to see that certain parts worked better than we had hoped, which gives us confidence moving forward. We’ve already worked on all that.

What other feedback did you get about the Pioneer?

We had some great feedback. The wheels are larger than the ones of the chairs they were used to using, and allow for slightly larger push rims which gives an improved ergonomic propelling position. Participants told us that this, combined with the quality sealed bearings, a stiff responsive frame, and a large castor wheel, means that the chair turns smoothly and quickly, and feels lighter than it is.

The users fed back that the chair is fast and nimble, due to it’s single front wheel, but that they also felt stable in it. They told us that they were able to roll through small potholes and other surface obstacles with confidence. And they noted that it was a good compromise between outdoor mobility and indoor accessibility, and that the chair felt tough and durable.

Family members and care assistants also pointed out that they found this new design of wheelchair much easier to navigate and push during the day. For example, the stability of the Pioneer made Jose’s wife very happy, as she now doesn't need to assist him all the time, meaning Jose feels more independent and she has time free to do other things.

The staff from ORTHOSANDER and ICRC who were helping to facilitate this evaluation also gave us feedback in relation to the assembly, set-up and fitting of this new product. They said that the ability to quickly adjust the seat length and width (as well as the other standard adjustments for footrest, backrest and rear wheel position) was a huge help in refining the ‘fit’ of the wheelchair to the user during the fitting process.

What’s next for the Pioneer?

We have made a few adjustments based on this feedback, which we are currently implementing into the final production design including:

  • Enabling quick removal of wheels to make it easier to transport in cars and on buses
  • Changing some of the nuts and bolts to make fastenings tighter
  • Adding a seat strap to improve the ease of folding the wheelchair
  • Adding foot straps to improve the stability of the feet when travelling fast or over uneven or bumpy surfaces
  • Rounding off and smoothing down the armrest to improve comfort
  • Simplifying the seat width adjustment system, to speed up the assembly and set-up process 

Once these changes have been implemented, we hope to launch the Pioneer folding three-wheeler in July!

Exciting stuff! Thank you so much Chris.

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