Viewing a Chair as an Advantage
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Apr 01, 2011
Paul Schulte doesn’t just play basketball at a world-class level; as an Invacare Top End design engineer, he also creates the wheelchairs he and other athletes use on the court and every day. Schulte and his wife, Meghan, have a 1-year-old son, Brady.
Q: What everyday and sports chairs are you currently using?
Schulte: I am using a 7000-series box-frame prototype that we’re working on for Top End. It’s a fully rigid frame.
The frame is very, very light. On my front casters are 4" Soft Rolls. They’re made by Frog Legs, and they are about an inch and a half wide, which is wider than your normal caster. It has less of a tendency to fall into a crack. It really navigates well over sidewalks and uneven terrain. The actual vibrationabsorbing capabilities of the Soft Rolls make for a really smooth ride.
For wheelchair basketball, I use an Invacare Top End Pro BB — it’s our adjustable basketball chair.
I also have dabbled in handcycling; I just did my first marathon. I raced that marathon in an Invacare Top End Force X. That’s our newest competition handcycle.
I did the marathon in an hour and 30 minutes. It’s a great cross-training sport. I’ve been involved in the basketball world for so long, it’s kind of ingrained in me. Being in a new arena with a lot of new faces, it’s fun.
Q: Take us through your home. What accessibility equipment do you use?
Schulte: I have hard floors throughout my house, which I like very much, just for ease of rolling. Half my house is tile, and half my house is what they call a luxury vinyl tile. It looks like a hardwood floor, and it comes in planks, but it holds up a lot better to the wear and tear that happens with a wheelchair. I live in Florida, so tracking in sand and having sand worn into the floor when it gets in your chair — this has a lot better scratch resistance.
I wanted them to just put grout in between the vinyl tile and the tiled floor. That little wood transition strip that typically happens with hardwood floors — I don’t like rolling over that if I have a bowl of soup in my lap. I like to roll seamlessly from one surface to another. It’s something really small, but if you go over it multiple times a day, you’d rather not have to think about it.
Our doors use a (swing-clear offset) door hinge. There’s an extra bend inside the hinge, so when you open up the door, the door completely gets out of the way. It buys you at least an inch and a half of extra space, and for some doors, that’s what makes it work. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get through.
In the bathroom, we created a small Roman shower, (with) an I-Fit shower chair. It’s wider and deeper than the tiny bench I used to use. It’s all plastic, so there’s nothing to rust on it. I roll in in my chair, transfer into my shower chair, and push my chair out of the shower, just behind the wall.
This was a home that we purchased. We did (the renovation) just before we moved in, and it took something like six weeks.
Q: What are your priorities when choosing a wheelchair?
Schulte: I need a chair that’s going to fit me really, really well.
I’ve seen a lot of different chairs — guys that have chairs that are really old, guys that have chairs that are new — and the ones that love their chairs the best are the ones whose chairs fit them the best. Included in the fit would be the overall footprint of the chair. I like a chair that is a really good compromise between being stable — I’m a new father, so having a chair that is really stable is important for me and my son — and then also being compact. I don’t want my chair to be so long that I can’t maneuver in tight spots. With how much traveling I do, being able to get into a tight space and turn all the way around is awfully nice.
And also, weight. I don’t have a van with a lift; I drive a four-door Jetta. I take my wheels apart and lift the frame over myself and back behind the passenger seat every time I get in and out of the car. So I feel the weight of my chair every day. Having it be very light is nice. If I had to choose between weight and function, I would probably choose the fit and function of the chair first. But right after that, it would be “How light can I get this thing so I can make my life easy?”
Wheelchairs to me are kind of like shoes. When you go into the shoe store, you’re looking for what looks good: What’s going to work with my outfit or really look nice? So the looks of the chair are certainly important as well.
Q: You’re a new father. How has your life changed?
Schulte: I like to look at my wheelchair and say, “I have a spinal cord injury. However, in what ways every day is being in my wheelchair an advantage?” I try to look at chairs and design chairs in such a way that they provide an advantage to the person that’s using them.
The first thing I do when I get home is pick up my son, because he usually squeals from the other side of the house and comes crawling over to me as quick as possible. I pick him up and hug him, and he starts twisting around in my arms. He doesn’t want a hug; he wants to sit in daddy’s lap. He wants to go rolling around the house. He absolutely loves it.
If you have a wheelchair that really works well for you, it should be providing little advantages throughout the day that people who don’t use wheelchairs may not even notice or might not have.
I had that worry when I first became a father. You tend to think about all the things that you’re not going to be able to do. Am I going to be able to hold him, am I going to be able to change him? I knew that I would figure out something, but… I would watch other parents hold their babies’ hands and help them walk along. And I was thinking, “I’m not going to be able to do that.”
Then one day, he crawled over to me, grabbed the front two bars on my chair, and I didn’t have a hard grip on my wheels. So when he pulled himself up, he slid my chair slowly backwards. I looked down, and he took a step. I was like: “Hold on — I am like the coolest walker ever!” He would hold onto the front of my chair, and I would just slowly back up and encourage him, and he used me as a walker for awhile.
That was one of the little discoveries. I’m choosing to look at this as an advantage.
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.