Wheelchair Desk

Designers: Jennifer Glasgow
Client Coordinators:
Supervising Professor: Dr. Larry N. Bohs

The client is a high school student with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy who needed a wheelchair-mounted desktop surface for schoolwork, computer work, and eating. He previously used a commercial work surface that rested on his lap. This surface was cumbersome and would move undesirably when he moved. A removable desk was constructed to mount to the client’s powered wheelchair. The desk slides on to two custom fixtures attached to the sides of the wheelchair frame, and can be removed for storage behind the chair. The desktop is edged with a soft rubber tubing to prevent items on the desk from slipping, and the desk shape allows for normal wheelchair function.

How this project helped
The client’s mother had this to say about the desk: “He really likes it. It makes his
schoolwork more accessible. He doesn’t have to adjust to the existing tables, which are often not the right height. We put it on in the mornings, and he leaves it on all day. He can keep all of his work on top, so everything is handy. It has brought his work up to him, and has helped him a lot. It’s been neat to see how he really wants it, and asks for it.”

The desktop is made of 1/4″ thick clear polycarbonate and is lined around all edges with 1/2″ diameter black rubber tubing for protection, slippage prevention, and comfort. The desktop is attached by four screws to a frame welded from 1/2″ square steel tubing. Foam rubber padding lines both the top and bottom of the rear portion of the desk top, which rests on the wheelchair armrests. The padding on the bottom protects the armrests from damage caused by contact with the desk, while the padding on the top increases comfort during use. A cutout in the desktop allows the client to reach the power switch and joystick for his chair. Two  3/4″ I.D. square steel tubes, both 10″ long, are attached to the desktop frame by hinges, which are welded to these support tubes and the frame.

The hinges allow the support rods to fold parallel to the desktop, so that the desk can be stored in the rear of the wheelchair. In the storage position, the desk rests between the back of the wheelchair seat and the client’s backpack, and on top of the wheelchair’s battery housing. A single Velcro strap secures the desk in the storage position. The support tubes slide over support rods, which extend from custom brackets mounted to horizontal members on each side of the wheelchair frame, below the seat. The brackets are made of 1/4″ plate steel, and mount to the frame members with two 1/4″-20 bolts. The support rods consist of 3/4″ square solid steel rod, 2″ long, welded vertically onto the end of each bracket. The support rods are tapered to accommodate the support tubes for easy mounting and removal of the desk.

To mount the desk, the support tubes are slid onto the support rods, which is a simple operation for one person. The brackets do not inhibit normal wheelchair use and remain on the wheelchair at all times. Because the horizontal members of the frame do not provide a vertical surface for mounting the brackets, custom aluminum wedges between the members, brackets, and mounting bolts ensure that the support pins are vertical. All steel portions of the desk, except for the support rods, are painted black to blend in with the rest of the wheelchair. The support rods are bare metal to maintain the fit with the support bars.

Materials for the desk cost approximately $150.00; machining costs were approximately $400.

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