The WheelEasy Beachcomber
Three years ago, when we decided to move to Australia, to live near Sydney in Pearl Beach, Justine said “I’m buggered if we’re going to be in Pearl Beach in 2011, and unable to stroll along it hand in hand together!”
So began our search to find a powered wheelchair that could cope with sand, whether made wet by the sea, or powder dry by the sun. The problem is that all wheelchairs have extreme difficulty on most softer surfaces. In particular, they sink in all but the hardest sand – a problem made worse by all powered wheelchairs being heavy.
Months of research ended with dead ends, until two years ago we came across an eccentric and absurdly talented designer in Barcelona. He had created a kit for fitting a seat to a Segway (one of those gyroscopic “personal transporters” that people whizz around on, whilst standing).
Two main features of the finished product are a collapsible steering column (allowing people with restricted mobility like me to get on & off) and parking stands (keeping the device upright when getting on and off).
Since everyone’s disability is different, fitting the kit was in many ways like fitting a bespoke suit. After two trips to Barcelona and one by Josep to London, nine months later the conversion was born. When I first got it back to the UK last year, I tested it on the soft sand of Sunderland beach, using extra wide Segway tyres, especially made for off-road use.
In this film, Justine as camerawoman is on the other side of the lens, but her & I are at the water’s edge together - somewhere we thought we’d never realistically be.
What I now call the WheelEasy Beachcomber overcomes many hassles for me. Thicker tyres for soft sand, but also all-purpose standard width tyres that go over anything but the softest sand. And really importantly:
1) unlike most heavy powered wheelchairs, this comparatively light machine folds down and fits into many unconverted cars
2) you don’t need to lug around heavy or bulky chargers – the charge lasts for ages, and if you’re running low, you just plug it in using a kettle lead for an hour or so while you’re having lunch
Best of all though, it’s perfectly suited to the outdoor Australian life, to which so many Aussie wheelchair users must feel excluded. In fact, in the three months that we’ve been here, so many members of the public have talked so passionately about how liberating this chair would be here, that I’m now exploring ways of bringing a mass market version to market.