MOBILITY GEAR FOR OUTDOOR OCCUPATIONS
Getting around in the great outdoors is something a lot of people take for granted. Hiking, climbing over rocks, wading through streams, caring for livestock, checking fences are all part of outdoor careers.
But what if you have mobility issues? What if you are injured, or become disabled during your conservation career? Does an outdoor life become impossible? I believe that today's modern mobility equipment will enable many people to continue to work in natural resource careers - if you can find what you need.
Finding what you need in an all terrain mobility device is not easy. There are tons of nifty mobility devices made for urban environments. But, a rolling walker with 8 inch wheels that works fine in town is dismally hard to push down most trails or even a gravel driveway. The same is generally true for wheelchairs that have small front casters.
There are only a few ready-made mobility devices that actually work well in the great outdoors where surfaces are filled with rocks, grass, tree limbs, furrows, sand and water.
* My review of the Walk'N'Chair.
Adaptive gear can be as simple as trekking poles for balance and outdoor walking stability. Forearm crutches may be better suited for some types of terrain of mobility issues.
Further complicating the selection of mobility devices for outdoor occupations with natural resource agencies are the current federal and state rules on 'vehicles' used on public lands - which is particularly out of date. To be permitted on walking trails and campdrounds, mobility devices must meet two criteria as defined in the Americans with Disability Act: 1) they must be designed solely for use by a mobility impaired person for locomotion, and 2) they must be suitable for use in an indoor pedestrian area. Hoosier National Forest has a good illustrated guide. These rules may limit an employee's options. So you'll have to find a way around them depending on whether you are on federal or state lands.
On Federal lands, the Americans with Disabilities Act and related accessibility legislation has a complex relationship with motorized mobility devices and trail use. Various states have rules regarding the use of motorized mobility devices on public lands. Florida provides an example of the type of restrictions you might need to consider. If using a mobility device is a part of the 'reasonable accomodation' from your employer, you'd still have to make sure it met the guidelines for the lands you plan to traverse. Public lands do pose some issues regarding the use of mobility devices. Note that non-motorized devices don't seem to be an issue on or off trails. Add an electric motor and everything changes.
Use of motorized mobility devices on private lands does not appear to be heavily regulated, though fire safety would be a consideration and any applicable state laws. Consequently a mobility device that works wonderfully well in outdoor use might not be equally acceptable on both public and private lands. As if finding something that works isn't complicated enough! I don't know how the various rules might be interpreted for devices where you can simply change wheels to make it either indoor or outdoor.
As a prospective employee with mobility challenges, you'll have to discover whether the equipment making your outdoor job possible would be allowed to be used as a part of 'reasonable accomodation'. Public lands rules would be more difficult to accomodate than working on private lands. Thus a farmer, rancher or forester working on private lands could use mobility equipment that may not be allowed on public lands. Since most mobility transportation is expensive, make sure your gear will match your career opportunities.
Irritatingly, most disability device purchasing programs such as Medicare and Medicaid will only pay for 'indoor' use devices, though you may be able to make a case for a device that would enable you to get a job, or as a quality of life issue. VA may be more willing to invest to enable Veterans to work in outdoor occupations. Some insurance may cover adaptive devices for work, but it's not a certainty. It's worth trying as some of these devices are quite expensive.
Those who are newly disabled will quickly learn that Medicare has very strict guidelines for coverage of durable medical equipment. In particular there are very limiting rules for 'mobility assistive equipment' which includes canes, walkers, manual and power wheelchairs and scooters. Central to these guidelines is the policy that the device must be 'medically necessary' for use in the home and not solely for use outside the home. In other words, the device must be needed in order for you to get around your home and carry out the activities daily living. Medicare won't pay for a mobility assistive device if it is needed only for use outside of the home. That partially explains why the availability of really good all-terrain mobility equipment is so limited.
If you need a dedicated outdoor, all-terrain device you will most likely have to pay out-of-pocket or find alternative financing. But such expenses may also fall under 'unreimbursed employee business expenses' and you may be able to write them off your income taxes. Check with your tax professional before making a big-ticket work related equipment purchase.
Items listed below are examples of available equipment. These are NOT endorsements for any specific product. If at all possible I suggest you go to your local rehabilitation specialist store and try out any equipment that you might be considering. Some companies offer trial periods for their products. Specialty equipment can often be rented from local dealers. For all mobility equipment and adaptive devices, please 'try before you buy' to make sure it will accomplish your mission. Read reviews, watch youtube videos, try things out and make your own decisions. Good mobility equipment tends to be quite expensive. Make sure it's a good investment for your needs.
Don't forget friends and family who might have mobility issues. It's no fun sitting on the porch while everyone else hikes off to the barn, field or forest. Make use of adaptive equipment to overcome the obstacles in life. Don't overlook the obvious. Sometimes what you REALLY need is a horse (and wagon), pack mule or llama.
Don't forget American ingenuity, and when all else fails, make what you need if you can't find what you need. Check out designs. Get a college class interested in helping you come up with a solution. Problems are there to be solved. My recommendations are to do your reseach and think outside of the box. Creativity may save the day - and your job!
Sometimes you just need a little help getting around. Walking aids can be canes, forearm crutches, staffs, trekking poles to name a few. Older adults have found that walking poles (and their cousins) can reduce load-bearing weight on their knees, hips and spine.
- Urban Poling
- This versatile walking pole assists in balance, rehabilitation after injuries, better walking.
- Brazos Walking Staff
- This handsome wood staff may just charm you into getting one to help walk through the woods. Plus it doesn't look like a medical device but something a Wizard might carry instead.
- It's a little hard to tell from the web site, but they make custom forearm crutches designed to make outdoor activities easier for anyone needing a little added help for balance and stability. One real-world Review.
- Pack Wheel
- This is not a walking aid but rather a means of carrying heavy gear through rough terrain more easily. If you can walk well but cannot carry a heavy load on your back, this interesting device may just fit your needs. It's easy to maneuver over very narrow trails. It can also be used for hunting.
- Honey Badger Wheel
- This is a multi-purpose, all-terrain stroller, hiking cart, hunting cart, dual cooler carrier, and more.
All Terrain Rolling Walkers
In recent years I've become dependent on rolling walkers. There are many fine products that work wonderfully well for town life. There are very few all terrain rolling walkers that actually work off-pavement. Should you need a wheelchair, scooter, or all-terrain device, the choices are similarly limited.
Rollators or rolling walkers that you can use in town are lightweight devices. Most are under 20 pounds, fold up for easy transport. Some are multipurpose and can be used as rolling walkers, seats, and transport chairs. However these nifty devices are most useful in hard surface urban environments or indoors. Most inexpensive lightweight rolling walkers are simply too difficult to push around to use on a trail, farm or ranch.
All-terrain rolling walkers have bigger wheels, are heftier, and are less compact than town models but are still portable. The large wheels make movement over rough ground significantly easier. They provide balance and support (and a place to sit and rest) but their best feature is their ability to traverse a much wider variety of terrain with ease. Most inexpensive lightweight rolling walkers are simply too difficult to push around to use on a trail, farm or ranch.
All-terrain rolling walkers can be quite a bit more expensive than urban rolling walkers. But an all-terrain rolling walker is built to roll over uneven surfaces, over rocks, through fields and woods. An all terrain rolling walker that actually works in rough ground is worth the extra money. Anyone (like me) who has struggled to use an urban rolling walker to go see the sights at some national parks will immeidately recognize the vast difference between a true all-terrain walker and an urban walker.
Here are two examples of all terrain rolling walkers that might enable you to engage in an outdoor career. Certainly either of these innovative devices would make outdoor recreation possible, too.
P.S. If you find a great device, let me know. If you can't find what you need, think creatively and perhaps make what you need.
- This versatile all terrain device is a rolling walker, manual wheelchair and transport chair all in one. As a rolling walker the large wheels make it easy to traverse all types of rough terrain in ranch, farm and forest. It's an entirely unique device meeting the requirements of a wide variety of outdoor activities. It's the only rolling walker wheelchair/transport chair combination I've used that works really, really well in the woods and fields. Read my REVIEW and videos: WalknChair
- Trionic Veloped
- The 3-wheel design and air-filled tires work in unison for a totally different walking experience. It climbs curbs, roots and other obstacles with ease and easily traverses cobbles, gravel, grass, snow and off-road trails. Again, a unique design that may be just what you need. It can be used as a walker and a seat. The overall dynamics are entirely different than the Walk'n'chair. Videos:Veloped
- XtraLator 300 All-Terrain Sport Rollator
- Somewhat different in design, this 3-wheel rollator is self-powered. It is more compact than the Veloped, and you can get it with a power lift seat. With the large wheels it should be good outdoors and is compact enough to use indoors.It appears that the manufacturer may be able to customize.
All Terrain Manual Wheelchairs and Add-Ons
There are a variety of all-terrain approaches for wheelchair users. There are manual chairs, manual chairs that are lever drive, motorized chairs using tracs or knobby wheels. There are also devices that carry a manual chair around. Many mobility devices that relied on large motorcycle-type batteries are currently being restructured to use the much lighter weight L-Lion batteries. Consequently check to see if new models are close to production as weight matters, particularly if the user is a larger person.
Most mobility devices for the disabled will qualify for use on public lands trails. Some of the more interesting all-terrain devices may not be legal on walking trails (under strict rules interpretation) if they cannot also be used 'indoors' as per the discussion at American Trails. Generally, any mobility device that could be used on public lands could be used on private property, but not vice versa.
The ADA is still a little vague on outdoor accessibility devices but has published a revised regulation regarding Power-Driven Mobility Devices. I recommend you print out a copy and carry it with you to supply answers to people who want you to stay in the car.
If you already are a wheelchair user, you may be able to tweak you existing chair for better outdoor use. If ordering a new chair, upgrading to a heftier bariatric chair (even if you aren't all that large) may give you the more powerful motor and increase in durability for prolonged outdoor useage.
You may have to get creative. For example, I've been looking at the possibility of combining a Walknchair.com walker/wheelchair combo with a Freewheel Attachment. The result would be a useable all-terrain device suitable for indoors and out (though more for outdoors). You need to think creatively and problem solve for your particular needs and objectives. Mix and Match. Explore your options! Do your homework!
The listings below are a sample of what is available in the marketplace and is not all-inclusive. Nor does a listing here imply endorsement. Most of these items I've only seen online and have never personally tried. Check Youtube videos for helpful information.
- Grit Freedom Chair
- This is an interesting non-motorized wheelchair - lever drive, off-road mobility, using bike parts for easy repair. These folks are committed to making outdoor recreation accessible! Freedom Chair
- A daily use chair that is also pretty versatile outdoors due to the interestingly wide front casters. Video:Whirlwind Wheelchair
- Lasher Sports Wheelchairs
- All Terrain Beast is just one of their lightweight wheelchairs. The ATB front casters are an awesome 12.5 inches. The BTX has interchangeable beach wheels. Check out this Youtube Videos, and see if one will work for you. BT-X
- Terra Trek Outlook All Terrain Wheelchair
- This versatile all terrain manual wheelchair is well designed for outdoor use with years of user experiences. The key element is the larger front wheels. Reviews are good, but youtube info is pretty limited so if you use one, post some videos! It should work well for many trails.
- Mountain Trike
- Manual, lever drive all terrain wheelchair. The user sits in the wheelchair seat and uses levers, which are attached to a chain like on a bike, to propel the chair forwards. The chair also has hydraulic disc brakes which are similar to those on a mountain bike and a unique steering system. If I understood the vidoe, it looks like hill climbing may be a geared option. It's a really interesting manual chair, and availible in the USA. Video:Mountain Trike
- Trekinetic Off Road Wheelchair
- This appears to be a very accomodating wheelchair. The company makes both powered and manual models, versatile both indoors and outdoors. The question is can you get one in the USA? Maybe it would be worth a trip to England (or Canada?) to get one. Video:Trekinetic Off Road Wheelchair
- Standing Wheelchair
- Description from the site: "The SuperStand Standing Wheelchair is a very unique piece of equipment. It allows someone who is normally confined to a seated position in a traditional wheelchair to STAND UP and stretch out with ease and safety, at any time, in any place."
- Wheelchair Add-ons
- The lever drive replaces manual wheelchair wheels to give you more armpower and speed with less effort. Rio Mobility has several devices of interest as wheelchair add-ons.
- Rough Roller Wheelchair Attachment
- The Rough Roller will bolt to ANY rigid wheelchair frame, and ALL electric chairs. All the parts and accessories are quick release. You can convert your every day wheelchair into an off-road chair very simply. There are currently 3 models available. Watch the amazing videos!
- Freewheel Attachment
- This snazzy add-on attachment is for both rigid and folding manual wheelchairs (with adaptor). The device lifts your wheelchair casters off the ground, turning your manual chair into a 3-wheeler, so you simply roll over any obstacle like curbs, dirt trails, grass, gravel, snow, and sand. The price is reasonable, too, compared to getting another chair.
All Terrain Motorized Wheelchairs and Add-Ons
All-terrain motorized wheelchairs come in a wide variety of types. Some products convert a traditional manual wheelchair into a motorized tricycle enabling it to traverse rougher ground. Other devices use tracs instead of wheels, or multiple wheels. Only you can tell what kind of device would work for you.
Once you reach a certain point in device size, the off-road devices become more like ATV's. While you can use ATVs in many locations including off-highway activity areas, they would generally be barred from use on pedestrian trails. Thus size matters and you need to decide if you are going to be using shared trails (pedestrain, bicycles) or shared roads as the rules change in terms of what's permitted as a handicap device that enables access. Choose wisely and know the rules.
- Zoom 4x4 Wheelchairs
- The Zoom is one of the worlds lightest and smallest electric, all-terrain vehicles. It has revolutionary driving capabilities off-road including sand and snow. It easily climbs obstacles and side walks. It may be a gray area in terms of qualifying as a handicap device for 'access' on some trails. Video: Zoom
- One base, 7 different configurations. Find the combination that works for you.
- The Firefly is an electric handcycle that snaps on to your wheelchair, converting it into a motorized tricycle. It can be used indoors and out, attaches and removes easily.
- Action Trackchair
- An all-terrain motorized wheelchair, with tracs not wheels. This is pretty much an outdoor-only wheelchair, but it has a high degree of terrain versatility based on youtube videos. If you are a disabled veteran, take a peek at this article.
- Freedom Trax
- This is an 'add-on' set of removable trax for manual wheelchairs. It makes a manual wheelchair into a motorized trax chair, enabling the person to go over sand, mud and moderately rough terrain. Interesting concept.
- Powerhorse Wheelchair Driver
- Basically, this is a motorized 3 wheel platform that you can wheel your manual chair onto. The front-wheel-drive Powerhorse Wheelchair Driver provides the mobility of an off-road scooter but without having to transfer onto it. It looks like a rather good concept, particularly for farms and ranches.
- Nomad All Terrain Power Wheelchair
- An all-terrain motorized wheelchair, with a choice of wheels. This is definitely an outdoor-only wheelchair. It looks like a good alternative to all terrain scooters. It runs in snow, too (see their videos).
- Bounder All-terrain Wheelchair
- The Bounder is an all-terrain wheelchair that will give you more personal freedom to maneuver through snow, mud, sand, and other rough terrain.
- The UK has some really interesting equipment when it comes to items like all-terrain wheelchairs. The TerrainHopper is an electrically powered off road wheelchair and scooter with extreme off-road capabilities. The machine is designed to tackle deep mud, dry sand, snow, undergrowth, rocks and loose surfaces and with good ground clearance.
- Boma 7
- Another great idea from the UK: Put a quad bike, ATV, a mountain bike and a go-cart in a blender and the result would be the Boma 7. It was designed for wheelchair users specifically for serious off road use.
- Foldawheel PW-1000XL
- While this is not an all terrain wheelchair, it does represent the newer, more portable, easy to transport folding electric wheelchairs. Models like this with the higher body weight capacity also have larger rear wheels. While they are a couple of pounds heavier than their smaller models, the larger wheels ought to make them handle better on a wider variety of surfaces. But the appeal is that they are lightweight, fold up and fit in the car, and it doesn't look so much like a wheelchair.
All Terrain Scooters and Add-Ons
There are a large variety of all-terrain mobility scooters. The question becomes how well they might work for your career situation. There is some crossover in all-terrain wheelchairs and all-terrain scooters. In some instances these all terrain devices are not very portable and would need a means to haul them around. Pay attention to weight, ground clearance and options. Do you need headlights? And ask what happens to the unit if you are out in the rain.
Will you be using walking trails or forest roads? Remember, to use trails on public lands the scooter has to also be considered something that can be used indoors, too. If the device would be classed as more of an ATV, you need to know that before purchase. If you are getting a scooter that may be classed as an off-highway vehicle, do your homework. Maps such as the USFS provides may help you make decisions. When in doubt, talk to the agency and get usage decision in writing if at all possible.
In general, the 4-wheel scooters would be more stable and less subject to tipping than 3-wheelers. 3-wheelers could be lighter in weight. Trikes and trike adapters come in all sizes. These dedicated devices are not cheap. You'll want to rent one or at least try one out before investing in what amounts to the price of a small used truck or ATV. Is the device more versatile than an ATV? Are there advantages to a scooter over some other mobility device? Here are some examples. Do your homework!
- QuietKat Scooter
- This electric scooter is popular with hunters and sportsmen. It's a portable electric all terrain vehicle weighing about 100 pounds. I would say that if you are in fairly good physical shape but need a mobility device to cover lots of ground in a day, this might work for you. To me it's potentially a good utility scooter for younger mobility challenged persons, but not for someone who needs more chair-like features found in other mobility scooters.
- Titan Hummer XL
- The Titan Hummer XL could be a good option for some outdoor occupations and the older professional. It has 5 inches of ground clearance, headlights, and breaks down into sections for easier transport by car or truck. The Titan Hummer-XL is now available with optional Lithium-ion battery packs which weigh a lot less than the old style batteries and also recharge much faster. It can also be used indoors. The price seems pretty reasonable, too.
- Afikim SE Scooter
- Afikim SE Scooter is a stable and smooth riding electric scooter. There are two styles of seats available. The big, rugged tires and adjustable suspension can handle uneven terrain so you can enjoy scenic outdoor trips. Highly manueverable, these 3 wheel scooters have a tight 39" turning radius and fit through standard doorways, making them perfect for indoor/outdoor use.They are fairly heavy at around 300 lbs, so you'll need a means to transport the scooter to your riding location.
- Luggie Folding Scooters
- The Luggie is a well designed folding travel scooter that is very easy to fold up and take with you in your car or on a plane. It's not exactly an all-terrain device, but it's certainly a great example of portable mobility equipment.
- Handicapped Accessible and Utility Golf Carts
- This is one of several companies that custom make carts where you can take your wheelchair onto the cart and control the cart without ever having to transfer. Could be a good problem-solver device for some situations. Remember, golf carts are not usually allowed in public campgrounds or trails. They should be fine for private lands occupations.
OTHER USEFUL ADAPTIVE GEAR
There's always something new cropping up in adaptive gear. One thing to note is that a lot of the really innovative devices and gear may be very new on the disability scene. Consequently there is no way to tell (usually) how long the company will be in business. Some really great gear has come and gone. So if you see something that may be truly useful to you, you may want to go ahead and get it. Sometimes if you snooze you lose.
The examples give will help you get ideas about what you can use or might need. There's lots more useful gear out there if you really look.
- Tilt'n'tote Tote Series Carrier
- If you have a folding manual wheelchair, the Model 001 is a small tilt device that lets you roll your folded chair right onto the accier so you don't have to lift it. The Tote carrier also folds out of the way giving you access to the trunk or rear of your SUV. I'm wondering if it will work with the Walk'n'chair. It sure would save a lot of lifting. The company makes a variety of other carriers.
- Tilt'n'tote Scooter Carrier
- This is an interesting ramp and carrier configuration. It should work for a variety of electric wheelchairs and scooters.
- Steady Rollator Carrier
- Carry your rollator on the back of your vehicle.
* Volunteer for HELPING HANDS