Submersible Wheelchair

Designers: Jennifer Peters and Julianne Hartzell
Client Coordinators: Beth Hildebrand and Cherie Rosemond, Carol Woods Retirement Community
Supervising Professor: Dr. Larry N. Bohs

A wheelchair has been designed and constructed to enable therapists to transport patients into and out of the pool at Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill, NC. This device is an improvement on a previously used wheelchair, which was unable to roll over the pool deck when loaded by a patient. The chair is constructed of PVC pipe to make it resistant to the chemicals found near a pool, and has larger diameter wheels than the previous chair. In addition, the chair has brakes that allow it to be locked into position. Finally, the wheelchair is equipped with a dark green webbed seat in order to improve its visibility in the water of the pool.

How this project helped
Previously, therapists had difficulty moving elderly patients into and out of the pool for therapy sessions. The wheelchair previously in use had small wheels that made movement on the rubber matting surrounding the pool difficult or impossible, requiring two therapists to lift patients seated in the chair. The new chair, with its larger wheels, can be maneuvered easily by one person and is safer than the previous chair since lifting is not required. The braking mechanism allows the chair to be fixed in position once in the water, and is easily operated from the back of the chair by the therapist. This chair makes transport into and out of the pool safer and more enjoyable for both patient and therapist. Cherie Rosemond, a physical therapist who works with residents at the Carol Woods Retirement Center says, “I feel safe with residents when I use the chair. It maneuvers easily over various surfaces and I can push it up the ramp by myself. Residents like the seat belt feature and the chair stays put at the bottom of the ramp… all positive changes over any off the shelf chair we could find.”

The pool chair (see Figure 1) was designed to assist a person weighing up to 250 pounds into and out of a pool. It was constructed for easy mobility and control around a pool and also provides a simple and effective safety latch.
The frame of the chair is made of 1 ¼ inch diameter, schedule 40 PVC pipe (see Figure 2). Three-eighths inch holes are drilled in the bottom pipes to allow water to enter the chair once in the pool and drain the chair when exiting the pool. This prevents the chair from floating and allows the patients to easily get back into it after therapy. One-quarter inch holes are drilled in the top pipes to allow air within the chair to escape as it fills with water. Front safety bars with ring connectors are attached to one side of the chair. The bars pivot horizontally from this side and attach with spring pins to the other side of the chair. The front wheels are four-inch diameter plastic casters. The rear wheels are eight-inch diameter plastic wheels with mold-on rubber tires and Delrin bearings. They are attached to the chair by a ¾ inch nylon axle that is reinforced by four nylon sheaths over the section of the axle between the wheels. The wheels are held onto the axle by small outer caps bolted to the axle. The seat and backrest are made of vinyl coated polyester fabric. The seat is cushioned and has a seatbelt. A curved PVC bar supports the seat.

The brakes of the chair have two handles, one for each wheel. Each handle is made of a length of PVC tubing. The handles are attached to nylon hollow tubing by a pivot. The entire brake system is attached to the chair by a ring of PVC glued to the frame and held in place by two screws. When the handles are turned, the pivot drives the nylon tube into the wheel well. The wheel is held stationary when the nylon rod comes into contact with the spokes of the wheel. This contact prevents any further motion of the wheel. The end of the hollow nylon tube is sectioned so that it will fit inside the wheel well.

The total cost of the pool chair was approximately $280.

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