The challenge of getting around

In August, I wrote how I was waiting for a new joystick to be installed on the new power chair I began using in June. Unfortunately, the vendor's technician installed the new joystick without me trying it out. When I got into the chair, the joystick was larger and higher, and I could not reach it.

The vendor tech returned a couple of days later to lower the joystick, but it became unstable and dropped out of position. That caused me to bump into a doorframe, which resulted in an Emergency Room visit and the diagnosis of a bruised, not broken, toe. After that, I realized the joystick had to be lowered so my hand did not rest on it while I was operating it. In early September, the vendor's tech visited but he had no quick way to lower the joystick further.

When I heard nothing more from the vendor's tech, I e-mailed him, the manufacturer and sent follow-up registered letters. I also visited online wheelchair user forums. On one site, users assured me I only needed the correct bracket and my joystick would be easily adjustable. The power chair's manufacturer set up a meeting at my facility in early November.

The manufacturer's representative moved the controller box from the top, right back of the chair to behind the right armrest. That got it out of the way so I no longer had to worry that the controller box could get wet at the shampoo bowl in a beauty salon. I was advised a more easily adjustable joystick bracket would be ordered.

In early December, the manufacturer's rep visited to install the new bracket. The 10-minute job took much longer. Surprisingly, he found locking fluid had been put on the joystick bracket's fasteners. He had to break a fastener to remove it. When the new bracket was installed, he easily lowered the joystick. I had no idea exactly where it needed to be. so positioning was a guess.

I told him I would need a few days to evaluate the joystick's position. The next week, a friend took me shopping to check the joystick further. After using it, my friend and I both thought it needed to be raised one half inch.

The next week, the therapy manager stopped me and said she could raise the joystick using an Allen wrench. Since the Allen wrenches that came with the chair were not the right size, she borrowed one from the maintenance man. After she loosened two fasteners, she easily raised the joystick.

Now that my hand can easily pull away from the joystick when I want to stop, I feel more secure. I have not had any collisions or been injured since. In the future, the therapy manager and another therapist can make minor adjustments to the joystick and other parts, as needed.

If I had the resources, I would change the large bracket on the back of the chair to a smaller one so it would not protrude. Then I would not be so likely to inadvertently back into things behind me. Strangely, the chair has a left lateral thigh support but none on the right. These oddities are annoying but not really dangerous.

I think Medicaid should ensure vendors and manufacturers work with users and facility therapy to ensure if a user needs further modifications after the sale, they can be easily completed. If my joystick had been modified sooner, I could have avoided being injured.

Topics: Activities