But a Los Gatos, Calif., startup called Rota Mobility is aiming to change that. Its wheelchairs use a central lever that the user pushes and pulls, in a rowing motion, to propel the chair. The company says this approach is better from an ergonomic perspective because conventional manual chairs can cause repetitive use injuries. It also claims its rowing propulsion is "noninjurious" and can help users maintain and build core and shoulder strength.
The Rota chairs, which come in a four-wheeled design or a slightly longer three-wheeled version (more like a tricycle), also use the lever to steer and turn the chair. The lever is linked to the rear wheels, which pivot quickly and tightly, making the chair highly maneuverable.
At 24 inches wide, the chairs are also more narrow than conventional wheelchairs, which means they are more likely to fit through interior doorways that are not in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act and accessible housing requirements that specify that doorways be 36 inches wide.
For braking, the chairs rely on disc brakes that are engaged by pulling the lever close to the body, and the design includes an 8-speed hub gear, to help on inclines. This would allow a Rota chair user to access varied terrain more easily than with a conventional manual chair.
As we saw this week from a tour of the Ed Roberts Campus, technology and design that improves accessibility can help not just individuals, but also the community, at large.
At nearly $5000, these chairs ain't cheap. But the high price is also not surprising, given that they're made, in the U.S., by a small firm and, presumably, at very low volumes.