Designer Andrew Slorance is shown with his Phoenix Instinct luggage.

Designer Andrew Slorance is shown with his Phoenix Instinct luggage.

The wheelchair travel gods may have finally heeded the prayers of all the wheelchair travelers frustrated by the difficulty of hauling their luggage while on the road. Meet the Phoenix Instinct travel luggage — a slick looking, two-bag set of luggage specifically designed to hitch to the back of your wheelchair to help make traveling easier.

Designer Andrew Slorance, who also designed the Carbon Black wheelchair, has used a manual chair for 34 years. He hatched the idea of innovative luggage years ago when he got tired of lugging heavy equipment for a job as a video editor. When he interviewed wheelchair users, he was shocked to find that 75 percent said the difficulty of lugging their bags dissuaded them from traveling alone. He could identify.

“I know how difficult it is, not just to move your stuff, but to lose your independence and be sitting struggling at the car rental, trying to get your luggage from there to the transfer bus and into the terminal,” he says. “It’s not very doable.”

“It seems crazy that those of us in the wheelchair world are living in the dark ages when it comes to luggage,” he says. “I wanted to make something that was going to solve a problem for wheelchair users traveling and carrying stuff.”

He originally designed a trolley that he could pull behind his chair, but has since dramatically improved the product. The new model, which was available in a limited-time Kickstarter and now via his website, uses omnidirectional wheels and a custom-designed hitch that allows you to click the bag onto the back of your chair. The combination keeps the bags aligned whether you go up a curb (yes, you can still wheelie), over bumps or in reverse. That means less resistance and easier pushing with no change in tippiness. Right now, the product only connects to chairs with a bar on the back, but Slorance is working on adaptations for folding chairs and power chairs.

He says he was caught a little off guard by the viral response to the first video he posted on Facebook showing the product in action. Within four weeks the video had been watched almost 200,000 times.

“I thought, OK, wow, this is something that really means something to people,” he says. “It’s a much bigger problem than I anticipated.”

‘Care E On’ Lets Walkers Hitch a Ride

Judi Chapman invented the Care E On because she simply couldn’t keep up with her husband Byron’s power wheelchair. A history of ankle problems had slowed Judi down, and when Byron started using a power chair, he got faster and she kept getting slower. As his independence grew, hers shrunk.

“We would do all of our errands in the morning hours because my wife could only walk so far,” says Byron. “By 2:30-3 in the afternoon, it was time to give her leg and herself a rest, so we would be home.”

Judi Chapman invented the Care E On so she could keep up with her husband.

Judi Chapman invented the Care E On so she could keep up with her husband.

That’s when Judi, “the one with the brains” in the relationship according to Byron, had the idea for the Care E On: a trailer-like platform that someone could stand on behind the wheelchair and ride with the wheelchair user. It took four years and “tons of tweaks and turns,” but they eventually devised a solution. The final model consisted of a 10 by 13-inch platform with three wheels under it that easily mounts to the back frame or battery case of most power chairs and flips up when not in use.

To test the Care E On, the couple took a trip to Washington, D.C. On day one Judi effortlessly rode around the Capitol for almost 16 miles. What had started as a personal project to improve their lives quickly evolved as people kept stopping them and asking where they could buy one.

“We went, ‘Wow, maybe we’ve stumbled onto something other people need,” says Byron. “We did some homework and we realized there wasn’t any type of device like this out there.”

Since 2008 Byron estimates that they have sold around 700 Care E Ons, relying mostly on their web site, Abilities Expos and word of mouth. Barbara Brown has been riding on a friend’s Care E On for five years and swears by the product. “I love it,” she says. “My friend uses a power wheelchair and I can’t walk fast enough to keep up with her on the beautiful bike trails around Sacramento.” After a long hike, Brown can just hitch a ride home. As an added benefit, if her friend gets tired, Brown can drive the chair using the auxiliary controls. “It’s a win-win. It gives her more independence and I get the benefit, too.”

Despite what you might think, Byron says the drain on the chair battery is minimal and that he has had no users encounter safety problems as long as they don’t do anything they wouldn’t normally do in a chair anyway. The Care E On is available for $375 at www.thecareeon.com. A larger, 13 by 15-inch version is also available for $100 more.

Easily-Assembled Portable Commode and Shower Chair

With some practice, it can take less than a minute to assemble and disassemble the WheelAble portable commode chair.

With some practice, it can take less than a minute to assemble and disassemble the WheelAble portable commode chair.

The viral video for the WheelAble portable commode and shower chair from Seatara is one of the more effective 49 seconds of marketing you will see. In the video, available on YouTube, a man and a woman sit beside two WheelAble chairs, one fully assembled, one disassembled. To show how easy the chair is to assemble and disassemble, they proceed to do both over the course of about 30 seconds. Making it even more impressive, neither leaves their seated position, and the man disassembles his using only one hand. Neither person needs any tools. Assembled, the WheelAble is a good-looking chair that can maneuver in tight spaces; disassembled, it is compact and easily slides into the travel bag it comes with.

A large, spoked center wheel with small front casters and slightly larger rear casters that align vertically with the back rest allow for pinpoint turning and for the user to back up closer to walls or toilets than some other chairs. WheelAble is 26.4 inches long and 21.3 inches high. When collapsed, it is 9 inches wide and it expands to 18.9 inches, allowing it to fit over a 14.5 inch-wide toilet. It weighs 25.5 pounds.

When you add in push up arm rests, a removable commode pot and an easily-attachable closed seat (to replace the commode seat), the WheelAble has pretty much everything you need for any travel situation.

With that blend of style, ease of use and functionality, the WheelAble appears to be a highly qualified entrant into the growing market of portable commode/shower chairs. Designed by Israeli engineers, the WheelAble is now being distributed in the United States by Clarke Health Care and retails for $995.

Resources:
• Phoenix Instinct, www.phoenixinstinct.com
• Care E On, 530/979-0115; www.thecareeon.com
• WheelAble, www.seatara.com