Posted August 24th, 2012, 09:11 PM
while i've come to the party a little late, i've been pondering whether i should say anything at all. you see, i'm a former leader ramp agent. my job was to ground handle the aircraft that you were either boarding or disembarking. not only did i have to load and unload your baggage, but for international flights...freight as well. for domestic flights, our 'goal' was a 12 minute unload/load cycle. on certain days, we were to 'turn around' an aircraft in 30 mins or less. next time you fly, watch how they're loading the plane. you start with the forward and aft bins that are closest to the root of the wing. weight and balance are important. the process of loading/unloading is fast and furious...the customers complain...or used to, when their baggage isn't at the carousel when they arrive. speed is not conducive to careful handling...think ox cart in a china shop. if your power chair or scooter is one of the first items loaded, it will get other bags packed on, around, and above it. the bins will be filled. instructions? folks, only once in a while do they have time to read them. if your equipment is one of the last items loaded, yes, it might roll around a bit, but they do their best to jam someone else's bags into it to stop it.
everybody's stuff is important...mobility equipment even more so. many of you know that most mobility equipment is feature-unique that even in the same product line, how you engage or disengage the drive system can be different. and as someone noted, there are more pieces of mobility machines traveling than ever before. so i ask you, how are the ramp agents supposed to know? wanna bring ada into the equation? a friend of mine is always telling me to be careful of what i ask for...i just might get it in spades. meaning, not the solution that i was asking for.
by trade, i'm now a 'tron-chaser, i work with electricity and electronics. i'm also sensitive to the needs of hc mobility, why? 'cause i take care of the electronic motor controller in an invicare pronto chair for a family member. i see the flaws in the current and past designs. wanna see what others will eventually tumble onto? try this on for size:
1. the battery system has no fail-safe, no non-shortable disconnect. motor controllers, in the past and even now, control how much electric current sees the negative side of the battery. problem? the motor wiring stays 'hot'. a simple short in the wiring can cause a fire in the bagguage compartment. turning off the key system doesn't change this energy state.
2. current scooter and power chair designs are made for your comfort, your styling choice, and your price point. they weren't made for ardous travel requirements. meaning that there is a certain amount of fragility to every mobility device out there. so, why would you surrender something so fragile and yet, so important to your personal freedom to someone who's job is to get the plane loaded as fast as possible? think about it. can you get your scooter or chair into your personal vehicle without the aid of a lift? no, you bought one didn't you! how dumb is a design that puts an expensive piece of equipment outside a protective enclosure attached to the towing hitch, exposed to weather and rear-end accidents? in our own way, we are just as careless as those who serve us. we do it out of necessity...so do they.
if you are like me, you want to see this paradigm change. i don't pretend to have answers to your experiences, but i do say that we can change how things are built by demanding with our checkbooks how mobility designs are done. we put men on the moon. we got them there via a command module that was the size of a short closet...with everything they needed to survive. so why can't we get mobility designs that are travel hardened, compact, lightweight and powerful? why can't we get mobility designs that are self-safing? meaning when it is shutdown...it is truly shutdown and not a fire hazard on an airline flight.
here's a laundry list of things i'd like to see in smart design:
1. universal standards for drive safing.
2. universal standards for battery/electrical safing.
3. strong, folding scooter designs that harden and secure themselves.
4. power chair designs that harden and secure delicate seating and control components. why give someone the opportunity to break something if it can be 'cocooned' while in transit.
5. universal use of lightweight carbon fiber and other super-strong materials for main body, control arms and shrouding construction.
6. the use of high-power battery/super capacitor power supplies that are much lighter in weight.
why should we need a lift or crane to move the mobility equipment around?
i don't have a short term solution, but the long term answer is going to be up to the hc community. please, i'm not asking for flames...i am saying to start demanding the future, now. please feel free to copy, paste and add your own desires to the list.
travel is freedom, mobility shouldn't be a limitation on that freedom.
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