Jul 30, 2016

New Wheel Technologies for Ultralight Wheelchairs

The cliché is, “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.” This has for the most part held true for ultralight manual wheelchairs, where only a few wheel innovations have dramatically improved performance over the decades. However, there are new wheel technologies that really have reinvented aspects of the wheel — with notable benefits for ultralight wheelchair users.

The Historical Issues with Wheeled Propulsion

In recent decades, as technology and social inclusion increased, ultralight wheelchair use also increased. In the process, the study of biomechanics in manual wheelchair propulsion became a field unto itself. Two primary findings emerged. First, ultralight manual wheelchair propulsion in the long term can be hard on the body, where the traditional forward pushing motion has a correlation to joint strain, especially at the shoulders and wrists. Second, because ultralight wheelchairs traditionally use stiff frames, without suspension, they can prove very jarring, exacerbating such conditions as back pain and muscle spasms. So, how are new wheel technologies addressing these two significant issues?

When Backward Becomes Forward

Since the invention of the manual wheelchair, propulsion has been via a forward push of the drive wheels. After all, if you want to roll a wheel forward, you logically push it forward. This has been the method of mobility for millions, for centuries. However, biomechanically speaking, this hasn’t ultimately proven to be the best form. Primarily, only the triceps are used, and tremendous strain is put on the shoulder and wrist joints.
To use the Rowheel, you pull instead of push.
To use the Rowheel, you pull instead of push.
The engineers behind Rowheel, manufacturers of an aftermarket ultralight wheelchair wheel that can be propelled forward with a pulling motion, evolved a solution that dramatically improves biomechanics. The Rowheel uses sophisticated gearing within an ultralight wheelchair wheel, so that when you pull back on the handrim, the wheelchair propels forward. To steer, you counter-rotate the wheels, but in opposite directions of standard wheels. For braking, you press inward on the handrims. I realize this all may sound a bit counterintuitive, but once you try Rowheels, you will understand a simple reality: they work extremely well.
The magic is in the “rowing” or pulling motion. Instead of using primarily your triceps and straining shoulder and wrist joints, the Rowheel keeps joints stable and uses your biceps, deltoids, traps, and lats — that is, approximately four times more muscles than during a forward push. The result is overall easier propulsion, with less immediate fatigue and better joint health over the years. Additionally, the biomechanics of pulling versus pushing intrinsically improves posture by allowing you to remain upright, with your shoulders thrust back during propulsion.
Beyond the biomechanics of Rowheels, built-in gearing allows approximately one-third farther propulsion per stroke. When you combine the gearing with the biomechanics of Rowheels, the result is dramatically greater efficiency in propulsion.
Rowheels are available in wheel sizes from 22 to 26 inches (in two-inch increments), and can be retrofitted to all major brand ultralight wheelchairs.

Put a Little Padding in Your Push

Another unintended problem that has developed with wheelchair wheels is the general lack of shock absorption. If you’ve spent any time on varied outdoor terrain, you know that no matter how high the quality of your ultralight manual wheelchair, the ride can be rough at best, teeth chattering at worst. For those prone to pain or spasms, the rough ride can exacerbate symptoms. Softwheel, a revolutionary wheel design, ingeniously addresses the need for shock absorption.
The Softwheel replaces traditional spokes with three shock absorbers that connect the hub to the rim. The wheel functions as a normal push wheel until it hits a bump. The shock-spokes then compress, allowing the hub to travel from the center of the wheel, where it absorbs the bump, then returns to the center. The secret to the Softwheel’s success is that it uses a totally rigid rim and handrim, so there’s no flexing or energy loss as you push. It’s only when the wheel itself encounters an obstacle or bumpy surface that the wheel rim compresses the shocks, enabling the hub to travel off center for absorption.
With the Softwheel weighing only 3.5 pounds, you get the benefits of true absorbing suspension without adding bulk to an ultralight wheelchair. Available in 24-inch and 25-inch sizes, the Softwheel is plug-and-play on most ultralight wheelchairs.

Seeing is Believing

Both the Rowheel and Softwheel technologies are so simple in use, yet esoteric in design theory, that they’re among those rare products where seeing is believing. Check out the videos — seeing how they work mechanically is fascinating. Also, if there’s an annual Abilities Expo in your area, that’s a great venue to test them for yourself. After all, when it comes to these mind-boggling technologies that actually improve our lives as wheelers, the one experience better than seeing them, is trying them.
Beware, innovation comes at a steep cost. Rowheels are listed at $5,400 online, though different sites offered them for as low as $3,495. The Softwheel ranges from $2,650 to $2,990.
• Rowheel, www.rowheels.com; 608/268-9760
• Softwheel, softwheel.technology
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Jul 29, 2016

Call to Action: Make Disability Visible in Everything We Do

Filed in DataDisabilitiesWorkforce Development By , Janet L. LaBreck and  on July 26, 2016 • 0 Comments
July 26 is the anniversary of the signing in 1990 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In recognition of the spirit of the Act, we are pleased to recommit to the important work of making our programs inclusive and accessible to all.

Disability is part of the human experience, and one of the variables that contribute to the rich diversity of our nation.  Disability is not a static condition — people can experience a disability from birth, or develop a disability as a result of genetics, aging, or trauma. Disability does not discriminate — anyone can acquire a disability, at any time. Individuals with disabilities are neighbors, teachers, community leaders, and parents. They are workers, managers, corporate CEOs and health care providers. Individuals with disabilities can and do participate in all realms of work, and their strong participation is vital to our economic growth.
According to the American Community Survey, in 2014, the resident population in the United States was estimated to be approximately 319.9 million individuals; and of this, approximately 31.9 million individuals have some kind of disability, including both apparent and non-apparent disabilities. Yet individuals with disabilities still face barriers to full, family-sustaining employment.
On June 21, 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics. The data on persons with a disability are collected as part of the Current Population Survey, a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that provides statistics on employment and unemployment in the United States. Based on this report, in 2015, 17.5 percent of persons with a disability were employed. The unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 10.7 percent in 2015, compared to 5.1 percent for those without a disability. Some key findings (and where to find them in the report) include:
  • Among all educational attainment groups, unemployment rates were higher for persons with a disability than for those without a disability.[1] (Table 1)
  • Persons with a disability are less likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher than those with no disability. (Table 1)
  • Across all levels of education, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than were their counterparts without a disability. (Table 1)
  • Thirty-two percent of workers with a disability were employed part-time, compared with 18 percent for those without a disability. (Table 2)
  • Persons with a disability were more heavily concentrated in service occupations than those without a disability (21.7 percent compared with 17.2 percent) and less likely to work in management, professional, and related occupations than those without a disability (31.3 percent compared with 39.2 percent). (Table 3)
  • The jobless rate was higher for minorities with a disability (17.4 percent for blacks and 13.3 percent for Hispanics) than among whites (9.6 percent) and Asians (7.4 percent). (Table 1)
Inclusion of individuals with disabilities cannot be an afterthought.
We — the Employment and Training Administration and Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S Department of Labor; the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services/the Rehabilitation Services Administration, and its Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education; and our grantees — will continue to consider the experiences of individuals with disabilities, be intentional about including disability in our policy and program documents, incorporate universal design in our service delivery strategies, and continue to be inclusive in our use of  language.
Moreover, we will continue to ensure that youth and adults with disabilities can access our education, training, and workforce programs and successfully complete them. We will work closely with America’s employers and our local partners in the workforce development system to ensure physical, programmatic, and employment access across the board.  Finally, we must continue to actively foster a culture in which individuals are supported and accepted for who they are, without fear of discrimination based on disability.
In full support of this call to action, we will make improvements to the programs we are responsible for administering in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and complementary programs that affect the opportunities of individuals with disabilities. We will strengthen alignment and find new ways to provide better services to more people through close collaboration at the national, state, local, and tribal levels among our respective programs.
Significant work is already under way. OSERS/RSA, and OCTAE will soon release technical assistance resources focused on expanding access and support for individuals with disabilities in education programs under WIOA — especially through career pathways, a model endorsed by 12 federal agencies. The Labor Department’s ODEP, ETA and Civil Rights Center have issued a set of best practices for physical and programmatic accessibility for individuals with disabilities.
Collectively, we are gathering concrete examples of promising practices, partnerships, and interventions offered by core and partner programs under WIOA. We are seeking examples of innovations focused on changing the prospects of youth and adults with disabilities, for possible inclusion in the resources.  If you are aware of such efforts, please tell us about them either by emailing us at inclusion@ed.gov.  In particular, we are interested in your answers to the following questions:
  • How are the WIOA core and partner programs in your community creating a welcoming environment for people with visible and hidden disabilities?
  • How are the WIOA core and partner programs in your community ensuring that American Job Centers and career workforce education and training services are accessible to individuals with disabilities?
  • How are the WIOA core and partner programs in your community using data to effectively identify individuals with disabilities, determine customized interventions, and monitor the effectiveness of your supports?
  • How are the WIOA core and partner programs using multiple funding sources to assure that individuals with disabilities have the services and supports needed to succeed?
  • Can you share examples of promising career pathways programs that are improving outcomes for individuals with disabilities?
We are always looking for innovative ways to expand opportunities for individuals with disabilities through demonstration grants. Here are two key examples:
  • ED has recently initiated a five-year, $3.5 million per year Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities model demonstration program in Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska and Virginia. The purpose of the program is to demonstrate replicable promising practices in the use of career pathways: to enable vocational rehabilitation-eligible individuals with disabilities, including youth with disabilities; to acquire marketable skills and recognized postsecondary credentials; and, to secure competitive integrated employment in high-demand, high-quality occupations. Program activities are being designed and implemented in partnership with secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, American Job Centers, workforce training providers, social and human service organizations, employers, and other Federal career pathways initiatives.
  • The Labor Department’s Disability Employment Initiative expands the capacity of the workforce system to improve the education, training, and employment outcomes of youth and adults with disabilities, and uses a career pathway framework to increase opportunities. DEI is funded jointly by ETA and ODEP; these agencies published a new Funding Opportunity Announcement for a seventh round of these grants for state workforce agencies on June 27, 2016. The announcement can be found at grants.gov and it closes Aug. 1, 2016. We encourage states to apply. The newest grantees will be announced in the coming weeks.
As a nation, we must continue to promote inclusion and to break down the barriers that remain — in hearts, in minds, in habits and in policies — to the security and prosperity that stable jobs provide and that all people deserve. Thank you for your partnership in this important work.
Editor’s note: This also was shared on the Education Department’s blog.
Portia Wu is the assistant secretary of labor for employment and training at the U.S. Department of Labor. 
Gerri Fiala is the deputy assistant secretary for employment and training at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Jennifer Sheehy is the deputy assistant secretary for disability employment policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Johan E. Uvin is the deputy assistant secretary, delegated the duties of the assistant secretary, for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.
Sue Swenson is the acting assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.
Janet L. LaBreck is the commissioner for the Rehabilitation Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Education.
[1] Educational attainment data are presented for those age 25 and over.

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