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Feature: Mobility Equipment

guy in wheelchair holding the rails
Bassam and Rowan
guy in wheelchair holding the shopping trolley
Maureen in Greek Island using her Luggie Scooter
A Wheelchair is being lifted towards the boot of a car

Safe exit

Being able to evacuate people with mobility issues during an emergency is of paramount importance. Disability access consultants Equal Access, from Victoria, can help property owners ensure they meet their legal and social requirements by providing them with specialist evacuation equipment for people with disability.

Their compact and foldable evacuation chairs, which come in manual or battery-powered models, feature wheels and rubber tracks which allow for a controlled descent down stairs. They also feature speed regulation devices and braking systems to control the speed of descent, have adjustable safety straps to secure the person to the seat during transport and can usually be operated by one person.

Having an evacuation chair on-site is also a plus for emergency services personnel, reducing the need for them to have to carry people with mobility issues.

Designed to Australian standards, Equal Access’ evacuation chairs also help businesses meet their legal and social requirements, including the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 and the Federal Disability Discrimination Act.   




A fresh start

Disability support provider Northcott is helping refugees with disability to source much-needed mobility equipment.

Basima Alzuhairi and her four children arrived in Australia as refugees from Iraq a few months ago. Basima says that so far her impressions of the country are that it is “very nice” although it is hard being here on her own without the support of her husband and sister who have been unable to leave Iraq.

Basima’s church collected enough money for the family to buy passports which allowed them to cross the border to neighbouring Jordan where they stayed for eight months before applying to come to Australia as refugees.

Three of Basima’s children have disabilities – 14-year-old Bassam and 10-year-old Joman have cerebral palsy, which means they use wheelchairs for mobility, and 3-year-old Maram has Down syndrome.

Basima’s 13-year-old daughter, Rowan, helps her mother with her siblings and is now attending a local school where she is learning English.

The family recently spent an afternoon at the Fairfield City Farm in Sydney, a visit that was sponsored by the NSW Refugee Health Service who have recently been working in partnership with Northcott to assist families such as the Alzuhairis with equipment to support their needs.

Senior client services manager at Northcott Tony Warner says that many refugees are arriving in Australia with disabilities as a result of war and poor access to medical services, and many arrive with either no or insufficient equipment.  Tony is aware of cases where authorities have confiscated vital equipment and medical supplies from refugees as they are leaving their home country which has left them in perilous and sometimes life-threatening situations.

Northcott has recently been able to donate an electric wheelchair to 14-year-old Bassam, however due to a lack of funding for equipment 10-year-old Joman is still having to use an ill-fitting manual wheelchair for mobility.

The demand for such equipment is huge and Tony Warner says that Northcott is now at a point where existing supplies of equipment are being exhausted.

If you would like to find out more about Northcott’s Refugee Equipment Project or make a donation please contact anthony.warner@northcott.com.au or phone Northcott on 1800 818 286. 




The right advice

Mobility equipment, such as scooters and electric wheelchairs, are an essential part of life for many individuals, providing independence, quality of life, and access to everyday services. 

However it’s important that people take the time to ensure they purchase, hire, or are supplied with an appropriate device that meets their needs before investing in a device. It’s also important to understand how to user a mobility scooter safety, and to consider the needs of other footpath or road users.

Buying a mobility scooter

With lots of different models to suit many individual requirements, it is important to access the right equipment for your needs. According to the South Australian Department of Transport, when choosing a mobility scooter, users should consider the following questions:

  • How far will the scooter need to travel?
  • Where will the scooter be likely to travel to (including surfaces it may travel on)?
  • Is the scooter suitable for public transport?
  • Will the scooter need to be registered? (Registration requirements differ in each state and territory, but generally a motorised mobility scooter must be registered to an individual or organisation.)

Users should also consider the following criteria and sizing requirements, ensuring the device:

  • fits in an allocated space of 1300mm by 800mm 
  • is less than 750mm wide
  • has a total height when the user is seated on it of less than 1500mm (for travelling in accessible taxis)
  • has a total weight (including the user) of less than 300kg
  • is fitted with four tie-down points for taxi travel.

As well as purchasing the actual device, there are many extras that a user may choose to attach, or may require for medical needs, including medical oxygen cylinders, shade covers or flags.

Safety requirements

Remember to check local guidelines to ensure you are familiar with your state or territory requirements, as they differ slightly. As a general rule, those travelling on mobility scooters are encouraged to stay on the footpath, and to only go onto the road to cross it, or if the path is obstructed.

To ensure pedestrian safety, mobility scooters shouldn’t travel over 10km/h, and should exercise slow speeds and caution depending on how busy the area is.

  • Corners can be tricky, especially if taken too fast and the scooters wheels become unbalanced, so be sure to slow down when approaching a corner.
  • When travelling on a hill be aware that even a slight upward gradient can have an impact on battery life, and travelling steep downhill can wear out the brakes.
  • To ensure the user and scooter are seen on the footpath or road, attach a flag to the mobility scooter, or wear bright colours to maximise visibility. 
  • Be aware of potential obstructions on the footpath, such as bins that may have been dragged out and left in the way. 
  • Sometimes cars coming out of driveways and side streets struggle to see someone on a mobility scooter, so users should slow down when crossing a driveway to ensure it is safe to do so.
  • Most mobility scooters have some sort of rack or basket –- these should be utilised, rather than placing items on the lap of the user, where they may become unbalanced. 
  • Users should always ensure that any medications they may be taking are not going to affect their ability to operate the scooter safely. 

Planning for the unexpected

Be sure to maintain your scooter and to get it serviced and check regularly.  Program the number of the manufacturer, or technician, into your phone so that if there are issues you’re able to contact them easily.  Some state motoring authorities can also be called if your mobility scooter breaks down.   

Link encourages people in the market for a mobility scooter to seek the advice of their occupational therapist and a reputable dealer prior to making a decision.



Wheels to go

The new SmartDrive chair opens up a world of opportunity, writes Permobil Australia senior advisor and ambassador, Malcolm Turnbull.

I have been a wheelchair user since 1980 due to a spinal cord injury obtained in a motor vehicle accident. If I was to nominate the best product development I have seen since my injury it would have to be the SmartDrive from Max Mobility® Inc. I have never seen a product capture the imagination of manual wheelchair users in the way the SmartDrive has. So when new models of the SmartDrive are launched it creates a buzz that very few assistive technology products can.

In January the MX2+ with PushTracker was launched. The MX2+ SmartDrive looks exactly the same as the MX2. The big change is the PushTracker which replaces the wristband, the functionality the PushTracker allows and the free App that connects to the PushTracker via Bluetooth. 

The first thing you will notice about the PushTracker wristband is that it looks great, a bit like a Fitbit Charge™. A tap on the PushTracker screen will wake it up, and subsequent taps will scroll through the time, the number of pushes you have done, the battery level of the PushTracker and the SmartDrive, the amount of time your SmartDrive has been active and the distance your SmartDrive has powered you. 

There are two buttons on the PushTracker, the one on the left connects and disconnects the PushTracker to the SmartDrive. The one on the right allows access to the settings menu. The settings menu allows the SmartDrive performance to be customised to individual preferences. The highlights are the ability to set the maximum speed, adjust the rate of acceleration and adjust the sensitivity of the tap. Pairing to a SmartDrive and the App is also done through the settings.

Another big change for the new model is the MX2+ operation mode. Having trialled and used this mode for a few months now I love it. In MX2+ mode the SmartDrive is engaged by tapping twice on the push rims or another surface. Once engaged the SmartDrive will accelerate to the set maximum speed and then cruise at that speed. Two taps will disengage the SmartDrive. To cruise at a lower than maximum speed, simply do the initial two taps then once the desired cruising speed is reached do a single tap. The SmartDrive will cruise at that speed. The MX2+ delivers no push required mobility!

The free App gives the user access to critical settings, displays information on the number of pushes, coast time and distance. It is a more user friendly interface, particularly for users with limited hand function. It also has the option of mapping journeys, which can also be shared with other users. Software and firmware updates for PushTracker and SmartDrive can also be done through the App. 

Max Mobility continue to work on making the SmartDrive better and the MX2+ SmartDrive with PushTracker is another giant leap forward in using the best of modern technology to improve health and lifestyle outcomes for wheelchair users. It opens up opportunities to spend time with family and friends and to go places that were previously too hard.

The SmartDrive MX2+ PushTracker is available in Australia and New Zealand from Permobil Australia: permobil.com.au, call 1300 845 483 or email: info.au@permobil.com 



Have scooter, will travel

From Iceland and Norway to Japan and the Greek Islands, Maureen Corrigan’s handy Luggie fold-up mobility scooter has taken her all over the world.

In fact, Maureen’s become such an intrepid traveller she’s developed a blog about her adventures.

Maureen, who has multiple sclerosis – a slowly advancing disability that makes walking increasingly difficult – has been to Venice, Croatia and even the North Pole, and has written a book on her travels to the Arctic.

Maureen started her career as a medical doctor and then moved into health administration, but after developing multiple sclerosis she had to make adjustments to her life, and one of these was to purchase her Luggie and start travelling.

“Since I bought it I have been travelling to so many different places and more often, because the small light scooter has been so easy to use,” she said. “Being independent is very important to me, including whenever I travel.
I want to take myself somewhere and I don’t want to be taken.

“Travelling is a passion of mine, an addiction that has to be fed regularly, similar to reading a good book – a book whose pages open into another world.”

Unexpected Rewards – Travelling to the Arctic with a mobility scooter is her own travel guide to the far reaches of Norway, Iceland and the Arctic, all on her portable folding Luggie scooter.

The managing director of Scooters Australia, Peter Fraser, says the Luggie is now the company’s biggest selling model.

“It’s a small and highly portable and can be taken on planes, cruises or put in the boot of a car or taxi. And because it uses a lithium-ion battery, it’s lightweight and easy to lift,” he said.   

Maureen’s book can be purchased on-line at trekkr.com.au



Mobility scooter mishap

A mobility scooter user is calling on local government to ensure footpaths are clear.

Ex-serviceman Paul Shiels relies on his mobility scooter for independence. 

“In January I was travelling along a footpath that I’m familiar with,” he explained. “There were some wheelie bins out for collection, but they were positioned on the footpath in a way that meant I couldn’t get around them. 

“When this has happened before I just turn around and go home, because I can’t get past if there is something blocking the path. I decided to head to the road to get around, but the angle of the kerb was too severe, and I tipped the scooter, with its weight pinning me to the ground. Thankfully, there was a motorist who helped me.”

Paul pulled up from the accident with a head wound, and bruising, but said the more painful thing has been following up with council.

“I did get a response to my initial email, but I don’t think it went far enough,” Paul said. “Before I could ride my mobility scooter, I went through a three-hour training course with the Department of Veteran Affairs. The main message  was to avoid going on the road unless absolutely necessary. So, if I’m not meant to go on the road, then more needs to be done to ensure the paths are kept clear."

Paul’s council have agreed to consider the recommendations of enforcing bins to be placed along the gutter of the road.

“My aim is to have councils ensure footpaths are clear, and if they’re not, provide a safe passage onto the road way.”    



Making mobility aids more mobile

Having the right mobility aid can give you freedom and independence but when it comes to getting in the car, storing your wheelchair or mobility scooter can become a real hassle.  That’s where mobility equipment lifters come in.  Link asked the experts at Blue Badge Insurance to update us on the options available.

If you transfer out of your device to travel you’ll need to find a way to safely pack it into your car. Even the lightest wheelchairs are unwieldy and require strength and balance to lift, making it impossible for many people with disabilities to move them independently. Some powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters are so heavy that even the strongest carer cannot lift them safely. Fortunately, a range of mobility equipment lifters can be fitted into your vehicle to help you travel independently with your wheelchair or scooter on board.

Mobility equipment lifters can be installed alongside sling hoists or other equipment for easy, independent transferring. When choosing a mobility equipment lifter, it’s important to make sure that it is strong enough to lift all of your gear. Your occupational therapist and vehicle converter can help you choose a model that is safe and easy to use for you and/or your carer.

Roof Hoists: These lift and store wheelchairs on the roof of the car and are only suitable for foldable, manual wheelchairs. Roof hoists are used in conjunction with wheelchair roof racks and can be operated while seated in your car with no lifting required. Roof hoists and roof racks raise the overall height of the car, this should be taken into account before installation, especially if you already have a tall vehicle or if you regularly use height-restricted facilities like underground carparks.

Boot Mounted Loaders: These move your wheelchair or scooter from the door of your car and load it into the trunk with the touch of a button. As the mobility aid is packed into the boot of your car, boot mounted loaders don’t have the same height restrictions associated with roof hoists. There is also a weight limit on the type of equipment that boot mounted loaders can lift, but unlike roof hoists, they are suitable for both rigid-frame and folding devices. Some designs are even strong enough to lift small mobility scooters or powered wheelchairs. Boot mounted loaders cannot be installed into all makes of car, a vehicle converter can advise you on which models work best. Some boot mounted loader designs require you to reach backwards to engage the chair with the lift - checkwith your occupational therapist that the design is right for you.

Boot Cranes: They simply lift your wheelchair or scooter from the ground into the boot of your car. They cannot be operated from your car seat, so if you can’t move independently without your wheelchair you will need a carer to operate it. If you use a full-sized mobility scooter or powered wheelchair then a boot crane is a great option because they are able to lift heavier loads than roof hoists or boot mounted loaders. However, they must be installed into base vehicles that can handle heavy loads with enough storage room to house your equipment.

Protecting Your Assets: Once you install your mobility aid lifter, you’ll want to make sure that it’s protected in case of an accident. It’s important to discuss this with your insurer to ensure they are aware that you have installed a lifter in your car, and that they insure you for the full value of the equipment.    

Blue Badge Insurance is the first disability insurance specialists in Australia - visit them at BlueBadgeInsurance.com.au or call 1300 304 802.