Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Chair modifications come in the nick of time

portrait of Steven in his wheelchair
Steven Bryggman in his modified chair
SALT LAKE CITY—Steven Bryggman has used a wheelchair for nine and a half years, at home and at work at Kroger Stores’ Data Integrity Center. But when his new motorized wheelchair came with some built-in obstacles, it was a real threat to his independence.

The problem was in the chair’s arm rests. He could raise them, but they wouldn’t stay up. If he tightened the screws, they became too tight to move. If he loosened them, they were too loose to hold the arms up. And that made transferring from his new chair to the bed or the toilet or the shower bench just about impossible.

“I live alone. I’m trying to remain as independent as I can,” he said. “I rely on my chair to help me through everything.”

He heard about the services offered at the Utah Center for Assistive Technology, and went there to ask for help. They referred him to Tom Boman at the Utah Assistive Technology Program. Boman is UATP’s Salt Lake City coordinator, and last year his shop refurbished more than two hundred wheelchairs. 

Armed with that experience, Tom looked at Steven’s wheelchair. It’s unusual for UATP in Salt Lake City to do customization work, he said. (UATP in Logan and the Unitah Basin both offer customization services.) The bulk of the work in the shop he coordinates is focused on refurbishing chairs and getting them into the hands of people who need them. Often, it’s easier to supply a refurbished chair to a client, who rolls away with a better, newer model that works.

Still, “If it’s necessary for someone, we’ll give customization a try,” Tom said. And in Steven’s case, the customization was clearly needed. Steven still had years to wait until his insurance would pay for another chair, and the one he had wasn’t working. He’d held onto his former chair, too, but it was more than seven years old. It was developing problems. 

Tom took on the challenge and delved into the parts inventory at the warehouse. “We happened to have two linear actuators that were the right size,” he said. “Not only does it have to extend to the right length, but it has to retract.”

He used the actuators to modify Steven’s wheelchair so its arms were motorized, activated by a switch. They would go up and stay up until the switch put them down again.

The changes made it possible for Steven to transfer from his wheelchair again. And the modifications were completed just as Steven’s old chair broke down.

“What a godsend,” he said. “It happened at the last moment.”

Tom and Steven plan to have his old chair refurbished there as well, so he will have a reliable back-up.

“He’s a great guy,” Tom said. “He was gracious, and very patient.”

“What these guys do is incredible,” Steven said. “I have a new chair that’s reliable. I still have my independence.”

To find out more about how UATP reuses and customizes equipment, visit our website.

Want to get involved?

UATP in Salt Lake City transfers donated and refurbished chairs to people for an affordable fee—usually less than an insurance deductible. It does not matter whether a client is insured, but the work depends heavily on volunteers. 

The Salt Lake City location is looking for more people to help them supply affordable chairs to those who need them. More volunteers would mean fewer people on the waiting list. If you are a person who likes to tinker, who is able to come into the shop on a regular basis, we’d love to hear from you! For more information, contact Tom Boman.