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Wheelchair protection

Thirteen-year-old Alexandria had a brain tumour when she was four, and now she has right hemiplegia, vision impairment and developmental delay, as well as some behavioural issues.

However, she happily attends school and enjoys playing with her sisters Georgia and Stephanie in their beautiful home near the water in Sydney’s south.

As sometimes occurs with a brain injury, Alexandria’s stronger left arm is very strong indeed, and she likes to pull and fiddle with things. “People don’t realise just how strong she is,” said her mother Joanne. “She can pull anything off and get her hand in anywhere!”

The problem was that Alexandria was destroying the fittings on her valuable electric wheelchair. The Occupational Therapist from Alexandria’s school therapy team suggested that TAD might be able to assist in protecting the chair from further damage.

Volunteer Kevin Everitt visited the family and found that there were a number of fittings on the chair that needed attention. The first issue was the control panel for the joystick, which had a thin film over the membrane touch buttons that set the direction and mode.

The buttons didn’t work unless they were covered by the film, but Alexandria was busily pulling it off! “It’s not really a very practical design,” Joanne said.

Kevin cut a piece of malleable aluminium to the exact shape of the panel, leaving three tabs at the top and sides. He punched holes out for the buttons and filed the whole piece smooth so it is safe for Alexandria’s hands.

The cover fits neatly over the panel, leaving only the buttons exposed. It is held in place with screws which go through the tabs into the sides of the panel, and is thus impossible to remove without a screwdriver.

Alexandria had also pretty much destroyed the upholstery on the chair’s left armrest. “I thought that the solution would be to use solid rubber, so there was nothing to pull or lift up,” Kevin said. He fashioned a piece of black industrial rubber to fit the metal casing and glued it firmly into place, and over two years down the track it survives, only a little worse for wear.

The next task was to cover the chair’s fuse box, which was behind the footrests under the seat – and within Alexandria’s reach. The cover needed to go over the existing case to maintain moisture and dirt-proofing.

Kevin made an aluminium panel with loops at each corner on one side. The loops go around the pipe chassis of the chair and form a hinge, so the panel rests over the fuse box to cover it but can also be easily lifted out of the way to access the fuses. As a final touch, he painted the panel black so it matches the rest of the wheelchair.

Also under the seat behind the fuse box is the chair’s rechargeable battery, covered by a fairing that Alexandria had been lifting and damaging. Kevin made a strap which goes around the fairing and underneath the chassis to hold the fairing in place, fastened with a belt-style buckle that Alexandria can’t undo.

The final task was to shield the cabling, which runs from the attendant control at the back of the chair down to the battery and to the joystick at the front. Joanne says that in some spots Alexandria had stripped the cable’s plastic casing off entirely, leaving the wires exposed and prone to damage.

To do this, Kevin used flexible stainless steel braid, which is generally used to armour outdoor cables and in plumbing. “When used for electrical cables it generally provides an electrical shield, but in this case it makes a mechanical one,” he said. “There’s no way Alexandria can get a fingernail through that!”

“Kevin was amazing,” said Joanne. “He just went through all the problems and he fixed them all. The work he did was unbelievable!”

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