One of the biggest challenges in the day-to-day life of people who need locomotive assistance revolves around washrooms.
The problems they face commonly range around:-
- Physically getting into the bathroom.
- Risk of injuries due to slipping in the bathroom.
- Difficulty in getting on or off the toilet seat.
- Lack of availability of practical support or assistance with hygiene.
- Lack of availability of appropriate equipments/aids/adaptations, etc.
The fundamental objective of the product design is fairly simple, i.e. to enable the user to bathe and use the toilet safely and if possible, independently, without much hassle. All of this can be taken care of with a care taker and a basic shower and commode wheelchair. To take things further, an advanced battery operated shower wheelchair will completely do away with the need of a care taker for most of the users.
However, before getting into how advanced the shower chairs can be, let’s discuss the basic requirements of a shower and commode wheelchair:-
- Overall Dimensions: First things first, the chair should be able to get into the washroom. No one is going to build a washroom to accommodate the dimensions of a wheelchair.
- Load Capacity: The chair should have a label or spec sheet mentioning the load capacity to help make a better choice.
- Waterproof: Typically a frame should be made of stainless steel or aluminum and waterproof upholstery.
- Height Adjustability : Two reasons why this is important :-
a. Commode heights vary from 15”to 20”. The chair should easily be able to roll over the commode.
b. Ease of Transfers: Given the above point, seat height should be adjustable to match the bed height so as to make transfers from bed to wheelchair and otherwise, easy.
- Stability: Some of the users tend to lean too much and the chair should have very good stability to ensure safety.
- Portability: This is necessary to enable the user to carry it along while travelling. Preferably chairs should have tool-less disassembly with a minimum number of steps. They should be light weight, if possible.
- Comfort: Ergonomically designed wheelchairs with cushioned seat and sufficient depth of padding save from discomfort.
- Footrest and Armrest Design:
a. Footrest Design: Detachable and Swing away footrest make chairs more approachable to bed and also ease portability;
b. Armrest Design: Swing back or detachable armrests are a must to aid side transfers.
- Serviceable: The chair should be serviceable and if not a warranty, at least spares like wheels should be available. One can’t afford to replace the whole chair due to unavailability of spares.
Keeping the above requirements in mind, let’s review the Indian scenario. Now how many options do I get if I search online or offline, that meet my 9 point criteria? Zero. That’s right, zero! Am I asking for too much here? Is this some kind of a hypothetical situation? No. Check out any of the good products which are available in US and Europe. They not only have the above specified features but much more than these.
But this being India, let’s compromise a bit and forget about the 7th point i.e. comfort. How many options fit the 8 point criteria? Again, zero. Okay, so we import more than 90% of these shower wheelchairs, may be even more, so service and spares seems like an unfair thing to ask for. Let’s settle for a seven point scenario by deleting 9th point from our list. How many options do I have now? None again! Do you think this is too bad to be true? We felt the same.
As much as it pains me to say, we Indians have clearly failed to innovate. Currently with 110 million elderly people, India has the second largest population of ageing citizens. We have around 12 million people with loco motor disability. There is clearly a pressing need, and thus there is a market but where are the good products to cater to these? Who decides what shower wheelchairs our elderly, disabled or hospitals use? The answer is the importers! Almost all of the market is dominated by traders sitting in the city with the ports.
The shower wheelchairs with the above listed features are considered to be a norm and sell in the range of $1200-$2000 in US and Europe. And this is the main reason why our traders never consider to import these as the Chinese products sell in the range of $120-$250 in the Indian market.
With an aim to resolve this very situation, the first shower wheelchair by Arcatron will have all of the above listed 9 features and will retail at under $200. Why is there such a big cost difference between the West and Arcatron? Product design philosophy in the healthcare products in the West is centred on engineering excellence and manufacturing brilliance. Cost comes last in the check list when solving a problem statement, and the credit for this goes to the vast insurance coverage. On the other hand, the Chinese have a basic objective of making the cheapest possible product in any category, putting the value proposition back in the check list.
We, at Arcatron, wish to strike a balance through the ability of solving the problem statement by simplifying the design. This approach has helped us to keep the cost minimal and still achieve the desired results in our value propositions. We hope to launch this base variant in July-August 2015 and make the required change in the Indian market. Stay tuned for more!