A San Francisco-based technology company is rethinking the way wheelchair users get around. Engineers at Rio Mobility have developed a line of hand cycles and attachable scooter devices aimed at keeping the wheelchair-bound more active and healthy. Ben Gruber reports.
TV AND WEB RESTRICTIONS~*NONE**~ STORY: Three years ago, everything changed for 25-year-old Jorge Alvarado. He was stabbed in the back at a party - the knife severed his spinal cord, leaving him paralysed from the chest down. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JORGE ALVARADO, HAND CYCLE USER, SAYING: "I realised something must have happened and once I woke in the hospital and the doctor starts telling me and then it starts hitting you but I was more thankful that I was alive rather than dead." He wasn't dead, but for months after leaving the hospital Jorge was depressed … adjusting to life in a wheelchair was difficult. He says one of the biggest adjustments was actually wheeling his chair - a movement that felt painful and unnatural. Things took a turn for Jorge after he was given attachable hand cycle that connects to his chair - transforming it into a tricycle of sorts. Jorge says that along with increased mobility, the hand cycle makes him feel like part of the world again. It eliminates the worry that his chair could get stuck or worse, tip over. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JORGE ALVARADO, HAND CYCLE USER, SAYING: "When you are in a wheelchair you are constantly looking for that little bump that might make you tip over, something like that, little cracks in the ground even. Going up the curve the little ramp is just an inch or two higher and that is all it takes to make you flip out of your chair. With this you don't worry about it." The hand cycle was developed by Bart Kylstra, the CEO of Rio Mobility. He says operating a wheelchair can be painful and he wanted to design devices that made more ergonomic sense. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BART KYLSTRA, CEO, RIO MOBILITY, SAYING: "Most people in manual wheelchairs, by the time they reach middle age are going to have problems with their arms, specifically shoulders, rotater cuff injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, and at that point they are forced into a power chair and that means zero exercise and their health goes rapidly downhill." Kylstra has also designed an electric scooter attachment that gives people that are too weak for a manual chair the assistance they need to stay mobile outside. Unlike a power chair, the scooter detaches from a wheelchair, giving users the option to still get some exercise by wheeling manually inside. The company is now designing a hybrid, part hand cycle and part scooter based on power assist technology. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BART KYLSTRA, CEO, RIO MOBILITY, SAYING: "There is a sensor in the crack that senses how hard you are pushing and the more you push the more it assists just like power steering." As for Jorge, he says his strength is up and he's sticking with his hand cycle. But he is comforted knowing that technology exists to help him keep active later in life.