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"Hey, now my new wheelchair really is a body part of me"

We accompany our client Janis during his wheelchair customisation

  • Janis McDavid has a new power wheelchair, a PR 50 from PARAVAN
  • The optimal configuration is central during fitting: "I think it's a little more complicated than shopping for shoes," says Janis McDavid.
  • The endurance test: in a sporty driving style, while dancing, over humpbacked lawns, sandy forest paths, cobblestones and curbs

Berlin/ Pfronstetten-Aichelau. "Getting a new wheelchair is always a very special highlight," says Janis McDavid. It is already his tenth model. The 28-year-old speaker, author and world explorer, who was born without arms and legs, has always been dependent on this kind of technical support. "The wheelchair is like a body part for me," he says. That's why it's incredibly important for Janis to get a feel for his new PR 50 in the first few days, so that he can get used to his means of transport. "Until I get the feeling, hey, now he really is a body part of me." 

How does the new wheelchair behave in different situations? What is the optimal padding, control and programming? How does the technology work? These were just a few questions during the final fitting at the Rehaform Berolina medical supply store in Berlin. "So it looks chic," was his first conclusion, "now it's important that everything fits really well. I think it's a bit more complicated than shopping for shoes."

Such a wheelchair fitting is something very personal for Janis. That's why the new one got a name - The Beast. A friend motivated him to give a name to his everyday companion on four wheels, and so the last PARAVAN was given the unusual nickname "Rollfgang".
In choosing his new wheelchair, Janis has relied on tried and tested equipment and had some functions optimised. "The last PR 50 was by far the most reliable wheelchair I have ever had," he says. A few new features have nevertheless been added: In the future, he will use the RNet control as well as the control function to operate the lift while driving. "One of the most important functions for me is the lift," says Janis, "so that I can communicate with other people at eye level."

"The innovations should go much further," dreams the world explorer, who hopes for a digitalization push in this area. "I would love it if my wheelchair were equipped with sensors, Bluetooth, NFC chips and an app in the future. Digitalisation and technical progress should be used to support people. This is where it shows that innovations make life easier for many people." With a wink he adds: "A massage function would be the crowning touch."

The final adjustments are made in the rehabilitation centre. The backrest in the front area is still a little stiff and cannot be folded in as far as the old one. The back upholstery is adapted exactly to Janis needs. "Much better or just a little better", asks the rehabilitation consultant. "This must be really perfect." Such an adjustment is a small sports programme for Janis: climbing in, out and back in again. Next item: joystick. Janis decides on a small ball that he can grip well. Then the correct position is determined so that Janis always has the wheelchair under control: That's precision work. Too high, then he presses himself into the shoulder, if he is too far down: "then you won't get enough pressure on it and you won't be able to control the wheelchair," says the rehabilitation consultant.

During the subsequent programming, Janis considers the following to be particularly important: "One driving profile for dancing and one for a sporty driving style." The profile for the disco allows Janis to set himself up just the way he needs for a good party: fast reacting, top speed and edgy. Janis knows what he needs and the PR50 is programmed accordingly. "I want to move rhythmically to the music."

After the dance profile, it's all about everyday driving. All parameters are programmed so that the wheelchair is perfectly manoeuvrable: acceleration and braking, when driving straight ahead and in curves, reaction speed and manoeuvrability when stationary. The programming is precision work, but the same applies here as always: Only when everything is perfect can Janis get started with his new technical "body part".

Once programming is complete, the new PR50 is put to the acid test - for this Janis has chosen a demanding test track: over humpbacked lawns, sandy forest tracks, gravel roads, cobblestones, curbs. In crowds of people, in shops, tight turns and in public transport. Everything is tested backwards and forwards. "In my first test drives, it's important to synchronize movements. I have to get a feeling for the behaviour and dimensions of my roller blind in as many situations as possible. Because later in everyday life, when I am focused on a conversation, shopping, etc., these basics must be automatic". Afterwards it is clear: "Tough test passed! We only have to readjust a few small things on the joystick."

Janis wheelchair has a few peculiarities. He does not use his PR 50 for driving. For example, it has a table instead of a headrest: "So I can eat on the way." Janis travels a lot with his wheelchair. He has been to Sri Lanka, Kenya and the USA with "Rollfgang". Fitness for travel is therefore right at the top of the agenda. This means that the seat should be removable with as few hand movements as possible and the battery should be disconnectable in order to be able to load it into an airplane.

"My urgent recommendation for an adaptation is to focus on one thing: how do you actually sit in the wheelchair you are currently adapting? Do you feel comfortable? And if at all possible, don't just test it standing up, try to drive the wheelchair as much as possible, because especially when driving you have to get a feeling for your wheelchair and whether it is suitable for technical support. If this is not true, it is of no value," advises Janis McDavid.

The way to the wheelchair

The electric wheelchair is a prescription aid. Any wheelchair with a corresponding aid number can be prescribed. The customer can contact the wheelchair department of PARAVAN GmbH directly. A sales representative in his region will support him in cooperation with a medical supply store during the selection and adaptation phase. Special features, such as an orthopaedic sliding back, are adapted on site by the cooperating medical supply store, as is the final programming. Another way to get to the wheelchair is to use a vehicle. If the PR 50 is part of the offer as a driver's seat in accordance with §35a of the German Road Traffic Licensing Regulations (StVZO), the electric wheelchair is approved by the cost unit, for example the employment office, pension insurance or integration office. In this case, the following should be noted in the traffic medical TÜV certificate: "Tested wheelchair as driver's seat firmly lockable with docking station", under key number 43.

First test sitting in "The Beast"; Janis McDavid takes a seat in his new PR 50 for the first time Photo: Sven Hasse
First test passed, some fine-tuning and Janis McDavid can start again to distant destinations with "The Beast". Photo: Sven Hasse.
Whether the UN in Nairobi...
...or a tour in Sri Lanka, the PR 50 has successfully mastered all challenges Photo: private