Planning for the Future: Equipment Needs

Bert Burns is a 1992 Paralympics gold medalist, a former sports & fitness specialist at Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta, and founder of UroMed (, one of the country’s largest catheter supply companies.

Bert BurnsQ: What assistive technology do you currently use?

Burns: I don’t use a whole lot of equipment, and I try to use as little as possible. But I know that as I get older, I will be using more. Currently, the main items include a built-in shower bench, catheters, hand controls for my car, and a wheelchair.

I have a TiLite manual wheelchair with a low-profile ROHO cushion and a JetStream Pro wheelchair back. The JetStream Pro back is very nice for adding back support and helping your posture.

Q: How about equipment for your car and home?

Burns: Right now, the only automotive equipment I have are hand controls installed on my convertible, and set of portable hand controls that I can use with rental cars or friends’ cars. However, I can see as I’m getting older, I’ll be using more adaptive equipment in the future. Not too far off in the future, I may have a minivan with a ramp.

My two-story house has an elevator, and we have a ramp going from the garage up to the house. In the master bathroom, we have an extra-large shower with a built-in bench. The bathroom also has a raised toilet with handbars on both sides.

Q: When choosing a wheelchair, which characteristics are most important to you, and why?

Burns: I prefer my chair to be small and light, so it’s easy to take apart and load in my car. Also, the frame is titanium.

It’s a very durable, rigid frame, so there’s less chance of things breaking.

So many times, people want to order a wheelchair with all the options that they can get, like you would with a car. All that does is make the chair heavy. So I always suggest that you should get as few options as necessary, because the smaller the chair, the easier it is to get into small places and to get the chair in a car. My first wheelchair weighed 65 pounds; the one I use today only weighs 18.

In our next house, my wife and I will be making a lot more adaptations, as we are getting older. Planning ahead for your future life in a wheelchair is important. Your shoulders can only take so much pushing; they’ll wear out eventually, so think about adaptations that you will need for years to come if you are modifying your house.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at