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I would never wish disability on anyone. However, if anyone had to be chosen to spend a lifetime using a wheelchair, I was the right person to face such a path – as clearly an inclination toward wheelchair technology somehow ended up in my DNA.

Often I've shared the story of my being a very young child, without mobility due to cerebral palsy, and experiencing absolute astonishment during the first time that I used a power wheelchair, where at the touch of a button, I zipped across a room independently – a true magic carpet ride.

Yet, today, what I think is even more astounding is that, 34 years later after my first using a power wheelchair, I'm more passionate than ever about mobility technology. After all, you'd think that after using a power wheelchair for 34 years, the newness would wear off, that having been in the industry for 15 years, and with Pride Mobility for 10 years, would somewhat mature my excitement over new wheelchairs. But, that's not the case at all. In fact, the complete opposite is the case, where despite the fiscal challenges for the industry, and the funding challenges for consumers, I'm more passionate than ever before about wheelchairs, and namely toward helping consumers obtain the right mobility and levels of service. That is, I still think that mobility technology is the coolest field around, and I'm passionate about sharing the liberation of the products with others.

Nothing excites me more than when consumers have positive experiences with new products, where the liberation that their mobility provides truly changes their lives – it's why I do what I do. And, each individual's excitement excites me. See, new power wheelchairs are such an extension of our bodies and lives that the possibilities that they promise key into our every emotion: How are others going to react to the color and style of my new wheelchair? How quiet will it sound in my home, and how smooth will it ride on my way to the bus stop? How will its electronics features enhance my life? And, where will it allow me to go where I couldn't before? There's an anticipation that's all-consuming. The best way that I could ever explain the excitement that surrounds getting a new power wheelchair is that it's like getting a new haircut, a stunning new outfit, and going out on the first date with the person you've always dreamed of. You just feel on top of the world, with nothing but limitless potential in front of you.

It's actually been three years since I've gotten a new power wheelchair – and a totally new model, no less. I know that some people may think that because of my roles in the mobility industry and my company, I must have the the pick of the production line, a proverbial kid in a candy store. However, I treat my roles with exceptional social responsibility, knowing of how difficult it is for so many to obtain needed mobility, so when I do use my roles to obtain mobility products, it's for people truly in need, not myself. I'm blessed with the mobility I have, and I simply don't find it ethical to get new power wheelchairs of my own when so many others are in need.

Nevertheless, every few years, we come out with a new model that takes my breath away, where I realize that the new technology can enhance my own mobility – adding additional liberation to my own life – and it's then that I order myself a new power wheelchair. And, with wheelchairs in my DNA, make no mistake, I have a Pavlovian reaction, where I regress to a 6-year-old child, losing sleep in excitement over getting my own new power wheelchair. Again, there's an all-consuming anticipation to getting a new wheelchair that I've never experienced under any other circumstance, second only to the birth of my daughter. Maybe it's some sort of twisted pathology, but wheelchairs intrigue me to no end – and receiving a new one makes me feel like a 1950s kid on Christmas, finding the Schwinn Phantom bike I've always dreamed of beside the tree, candy-apply red, with its signature gas-tank-style frame, chrome handlebars and all, where I just want to admire it, taking in its glistening paint and white-wall tires.

Based on product launch cycles that correspond with the mobility industry's trade show, Medtrade, my new power wheelchairs are always received in the fall. So, every few years, this is among the most inspired of times for me – not only do I get to see other consumers receiving hot new products, but I actually get one of my own.

This year, I've had the privilege of outfitting my new Q6 Edge, taking much of my lifestyle and career into account in the process – which we all should do when ordering a new wheelchair. I knew that my new power wheelchair had to fit a vast range of uses, including charity galas, airline travel, trade shows, consumer shows, speaking engagements, disability awareness programs (as with Boy Scout Jamborees and NASCAR events), and social events, all on top of everyday independent living tasks. Therefore, my challenge was to have an extremely versatile power wheelchair that looks appropriate in a vast range of environments, travels well, and performs on whatever terrain I encounter.

Color selection for me, as with most consumers, was a major factor toward my new power wheelchair. I've traditionally sported silver because it looked good no matter the occasion or what I wore. Lamborghini Yellow might look cool at a NASCAR event, but it would look out of place when I'm speaking on stage or wearing a tuxedo. Similarly, black would look great when I'm at a formal event, but wouldn't show the power wheelchair's style – which I want people to see! – at outdoor events or trade shows. For these reasons, silver has been my default, working well across the board of environments.

Still, for my new power wheelchair, I wanted to diverge from silver – but keep a versatility in the color – and as I went through the color spectrum, I realized that if I wanted classy, hi-tech, and sporty, all in one, I should consider a hybrid finish, leading me to “carbon fiber.” The black-and-gray carbon fiber color-keyed perfectly to the overall black-and-gray color scheme of the other components, and gave me the classy, hi-tech, and sporty look that I wished. Whether I'm at a formal gala or a NASCAR event, it fits in. And, it has an automotive-grade finish, so it should wear well with airline travel and overall use.

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On the running gear, I went with our “Community Use” package, consisting of 100A electronics, 6 MPH 4-pole motors, and 14”x4” drive wheels. Some consumers wonder why power wheelchair motor technology hasn't changed dramatically, but really it has. Areas like durability and quietness have dramatically improved in recent years. However, as important, so has efficiency. This newest-generation 4-pole motor is optimized to run most efficiently at 8A to 30A, which is where most rehab consumers run their power wheelchairs in everyday use (though, the motor certainly runs at higher amperages when needed). By engineering the motor so that it runs most efficiently within the “sweet spot” of most users, range is optimized, as is sound and reliability.

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I went with 14”x4” knobby drive tires – which is a huge plus in my uses. Traditional rehab power wheelchairs are 25.5” wide, which is about the maximum width wished for access to any environment (such as 28” bathroom door ways, where when the door is hung, the door opening commonly only measures 26” or so). Yet, I've found that 14”x4” tires perform notably better across the spectrum of outdoor environments in my use, but make a rehab power wheelchair too wide for many of my travels (widening a power wheelchair to 27”-28” rules out some accessibility). Fortunately, my new power wheelchair's base is a slender 24” wide as standard, and only grows to 25.5” when adding 14”x4” knobby tires. The result is that I can handle a wide range of outdoor terrain and enhanced obstacle climbing with the 14”x4” tires, while still having a standard rehab width – no more trade-offs between great tires and overall width. (It's also important to note that while there's a 25.5” overall width at the 14”x4” drive wheels, the overall base's width at the rear casters is only 19”, so maneuvering in tight quarters is enhanced, making it less likely to bump the casters when maneuvering.)

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Getting back to appreciation and social responsibility toward mobility products, I actually retained my entire lift-and-tilt seating system and its electronics from my previous base, using it on my new base. Again, there are so many people in need, it would have been unethical of me to replace my perfectly-good seating system, when I could simply transfer it to the new power wheelchair base. Then, I found someone in need, and fit a user-specific seat on my old-but-good base, and donated it, accordingly.

And, it's within these sentiments of appreciation and social responsibility that we should all approach receiving new wheelchairs: It's great to help ourselves once in a while; however, let's make sure that we help others all of the time. As I like to live by: People first, then wheelchairs, then ourselves.

Published 11/2010, Copyright 2010, WheelchairJunkie.com