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The Turtle: new wheelchair tracks on sand and snow.

THE TURTLE: New Wheelchair Tracks on Sand and Snow

Strange tracks have been observed on the sandy beaches of Cape Cod and on the sand dunes of Horseneck Beach and Martha's Vineyard. Members of the Wheelchair Motorcycle Association (WMA) have been conducting trials with their newly designed all-terrain wheelchair with great success. Now even light snow, grass, camping trails and sand are no longer the very difficult and forbidden terrain they once were for individuals needing wheelchairs. After four years of trial and error, testing various wheelchairs and contraptions designed to handle unfriendly wheelchair terrain, Dr. Eli Factor, president of the WMA, and his son, Scott, have assembled a new all-terrain chair.

The WMA is an all volunteer non-profit organization founded in 1975 after Scott Factor incurred an injury that left him with paraplegia. Scott, his dad and the other members of the WMA have investigated all types of off-road vehicles for use by people with disabilities. Where necessary they have added innovations to improve the performance of various machines. They have even built prototypes to fill the needs in those areas where no vehicle satisfied the terrain or disability. The WMA does not sell or manufacture vehicles but tries to give an unbiased opinion of available models. The WMA has tested a variety of off-road vehicles, keeping records and descriptions which they share with interested individuals and organizations from all over the United States.

The history of the all-terrain wheelchair has taken many shapes and turns. There was the Porta Pier trailer, portable ramp, Beach Chair, Sand Rik, Beachmaster and the Emancipator. Each had good and unique features but were unusually bulky and over-specialized. They also could not handle ordinary everyday situations.


The new WMA design, which has been named The Turtle, is both simple to assemble and practical. Any individual can assemble The Turtle from various components: a large plastic front ball, two or four all-terrain bicycle tires (2.25" x 26"), wheelchair detachable hubs and a solid nonfolding wheelchair frame. Not only can The Turtle handle special terrain, but it can also be used at home, in restaurants, for shopping or any other mobility need.

Scott and his dad discussed the project many times. The owner of a local bicycle shop took a wheelchair hub that fit a wheelchair frame and fabricated a large all-terrain bicycle tire. Although bicycle tires provided greater flotation on grass and solid terrain, the adapted chair was still getting stuck in deep ruts and thick sand. A double set of tires solved this problem. Now the challenge was how to adapt the large front plastic ball to a wheelchair frame without using the available cumbersome swivel holder, which added weight and expense and proved quite impracticable for ordinary everyday use.

At first Scott was very skeptical when he saw all the modifications. His dad recalls Scott saying, "Just give me the parts and I will do it!" In just over two hours, Scott, trying various combinations and using available parts on his light-weight wheelchair, assembled the new Turtle. He removed the ordinary brake holders and reversed their position on the foot frame. He then inserted the axle through the brake parts and assembled the large front plastic ball directly onto the wheelchair.

The results were FANTASTIC! The weight distribution was vastly improved, unnecessary bulk and custom built tubing was eliminated. Most importantly, anyone could duplicate his innovation using available parts in just five minutes.

Then came the test! With a broad smile, Scott literally flew over the grassy and hilly terrain outside his apartment complex, which had been a tedious task in his ordinary wheelchair with its narrow tires and front casters. His smile was the forecast of many wonderful experiences to be shared by other people with disabilities in previously unattainable terrain.

When two of Scott's teammates on the Boston Mustang Wheelchair Basketball team saw The Turtle, they offered to test it on Martha's Vineyard, where they planned a weekend camping trip. They had a ball!!

It was during the ocean excursions that members of the WMA experienced the absolute beauty of nature; the constant hissing sounds of the breaking waves, the solitude and whisper of the wind through the dunes, the many natural scenes of previously inaccessible areas. One of the highlights occurred when The Turtle was used not only to negotiate sandy beaches but also a steep, forbidding sand dune. Could The Turtle safely go down this sandy hill without tipping over? The rider gingerly started down by leaning back so that the front ball wouldn't dig in. It worked beautifully and slowly. The ball skimmed the sand acted as a brake. The chair and rider gleefully waded down, down, down to the bottom. It was like descending a small mountain. Of course, it took a team of humans to pull the occupied Turtle back to level ground but it was worth it. That's when looking back they saw the interesting tracks that reminded them of a turtle slowly working his way to the ocean.

Now all of the experiences and fun at the beach are available to those who use a wheelchair. It does require strength to handle beach sand. It is, however, also great news for children and adults who cannot push their wheelchair unassisted. They can be more easily pushed or pulled over difficult terrain and can join family and friends for a day at the beach, picnics in the outdoors, camping and even the fun of traveling through snow! A whole new generation of snowmen are about to be created because of The Turtle.

The club members are looking ahead to adding a ratchet and chain system for easier handling in sand and even small skis below the wheelchair casters for snow.

For more information, contact the Wheelchair Motorcycle Association, Eli Factor, President, 101 Torrey St., Brockton, Mass. 02401, (508) 583-8614.

PHOTO : With a few adaptations, an average wheelchair becomes an easy route to fun on the beach and in the snow.
COPYRIGHT 1989 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:all-terrain wheelchair
Author:Factor, Eli
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:May 1, 1989
Previous Article:The other side of the story.
Next Article:"Our son's school problems surprised us." Adolescence and independence.

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