In the computer industry, "beta testing" is a buzz word, meaning that software companies release
programs to a select few users after all formal testing is complete, specifically to get real-world feedback
on the product before its commercial release, to make last-minute enhancements if needed.|
did you know that such real-world testing occurs with wheelchair products, as well, where those with
disabilities use unreleased products, providing real-world feedback to ideally make the final product
a better wheelchair? Indeed, beta testing is a valuable part of the development process within the wheelchair
industry, likely a valuable step toward the very wheelchair that you currently use.
Per FDA regulations, wheelchairs go through formal testing protocol to ANSI/RESNA standards. Of course,
formal testing proves form, function, durability, and reliability; however, beyond literal testing and
the development team's professional knowledge and experience, how does a manufacturer ultimately know
that a new wheelchair will meet the preferred functional characteristics of an actual end user in everyday
This is where wheelchair beta testing comes in. After formal testing is complete - but
while some changes can still be made to the product - clinicians, providers, and end users are selected
to use a new wheelchair, and provide detailed, real-time feedback on its qualities.
In rehab facilities,
clinicians not only review a new wheelchair from their perspectives - whether a beta unit fully meets
their clients' needs, from positioning to performance - but may also prescribe units to individual users
for full-time, long-term use, where the end user and clinician serve as a beta-testing team, providing
joint feedback. Similarly, manufacturers work with esteemed providers and their customers to use and
assess beta units over the long term. In this way, beta units receive feedback from all three aspects
of the mobility field - clinicians, providers, and end users.
The Chosen Few
may seem like any wheelchair user could appropriately test a mobility product, there's a bit of a science
to selecting the most fitting end users as beta testers. Specifically, beta units are placed with users
who are suited to the exact class and application of the product. For example, if a manufacturer wished
to select beta testers for a high-performance, ultra-light, rigid wheelchair, the demographic of a beta
tester would be someone who uses that type of wheelchair full time, as opposed to a powerchair user.
In this way, not every user is an ideal beta tester for every wheelchair, and clinicians, providers,
and manufacturers carefully place beta sample with the most appropriate users.
What Beta Testing
Is and Isn't
Another important factor toward those who are selected as beta testers is overall user
discretion. Users sometimes note, "I destroy wheelchairs - give me one and I'll test it for you!" In
reality, simply trying to wreck wheelchairs isn't beneficial, productive beta testing. While assessing
real-world durability is part of beta testing, there are many, many other aspects that need noting, across
the entire spectrum of use, from comfort to functionalities to positioning to transportability to performance
and so on, based on the particular type and application of a wheelchair. Therefore, a beta tester is
most beneficial when he or she uses a wheelchair across the entire scope of uses, and can articulate
successes and shortcomings of the product to a meaningful degree.
Discretion, of course, also
goes toward confidentiality. Beta testers are using products that aren't entirely finalized or released
to the public, and comments on the product must remain reasonably confidential. The idea is that beta
testers provide feedback on how to improve the product, and it's not fair to the product or manufacturer
if a beta tester uses the wheelchair, and then publicly tells others of issues that he or she experienced,
potentially effecting the products reputation before the manufacturer has finalized the product and resolved
any issues found as intended by the process. Therefore, beta testing is a confidential dialog between
the user and the manufacturer, not an opportunity to publicly critique a still-developing product.
The fact is, a relatively small number of new wheelchair models are developed each year, at least
by comparison to the software industry. However, the models are beta tested, where users a lot like
you test wheelchairs before they are released, ideally improving final products for all of us. Who knows,
maybe you will be a beta tester - or, maybe you are (don't worry, I won't tell).
Published 7/07, Copyright 2007, WheelchairJunkie.com