Industry newcomer LUCI was recently recognized by both Time and Popular Science as having one of the top innovations of 2020 across all products in all industries. Coming from such mainstream publications, this provided recognition to our Complex Rehab Technology (CRT) industry beyond our typical channels of exposure.

This got us to thinking about industry pioneers and product innovations throughout the history of CRT. As we compared notes from our personal experiences as CRT veterans, contacted other CRT veterans with questions, and tried to conduct research to document CRT innovations, we discovered that our industry lacks historical documentation. This led us to ask: How can we provide some historical context to spotlight product innovations and pioneers in CRT? And, how can we engage other CRT professionals to weigh in with their knowledge and experience to supplement our work?

This blog post is our way to answer the above questions. Please add your knowledge to expand this body of work by filling in gaps and offering corrections or additions to our list at PioneersInCRT@gmail.com. Once we have heard from you and built upon this original list, NRRTS will publish a final list in a 2021 edition of DIRECTIONS.

Part A (published below) is our effort to provide recognition and historical documentation to significant CRT product innovations in the field of Wheelchair Seating and Mobility. The categories we include are Manual Wheelchairs, Power Wheelchairs, Power Control Systems / Specialty Controls, Seating and Positioning, Standing, and Innovations in 2020. We encourage readers to identify other CRT pioneers and innovations that should be added to this list, with the goal of assembling the most comprehensive list of CRT pioneers and innovations possible. We hope the result of our list, with your additions, will serve as a historical reference for newcomers in our field today and future generations of CRT professionals.

There are other categories in the history of CRT that we have chosen not to include (AT and communication devices, clinicians / educators, and researchers / engineers all come to mind) that equally merit recognition and documentation. Hopefully, others will be inspired to round out the CRT history file by researching and sharing the story of industry pioneers in those categories as well.

Part B (coming next week) is our selection of the top 10 list of all-time CRT product innovations. Narrowing down that impressive list will surely stir up some controversy! Between now and next week, think about your own top 10 list and we’ll see how your list compares to ours.

Part A
CRT Pioneers and Innovations by Category

Manual Wheelchairs

  • Harry Jennings, Herbert Everest (Everest and Jennings) pioneers of the cross-brace folding wheelchair. You can argue whether this innovation meets the definition of CRT, but this single invention brought wheelchairs from the dark ages into mainstream society. Circa 1933.
  • Jeff Minnebraker, Brad Parks, Eric Walls, Mary (Wilson) Boegel (Quadra Wheelchairs) pioneers of the ultralight wheelchair. Circa 1974. (See this New Mobility article dated November 2012.)
  • Larry Mulholland (Mulholland Positioning Systems) pioneer of tilt-in-space seating on a manual mobility base. Circa 1974.
  • Rainer Kuschall (Kuschall Wheelchairs) Swiss pioneer of the ultralight wheelchair. Circa 1975.
  • Jim Okamoto, Don Helman, Marilyn Hamilton (Quickie Wheelchairs) pioneers of color, aesthetics, and additional performance designs in rigid and folding ultralight wheelchairs. Circa 1979.
  • Bob Hall (Hall’s Wheels) pioneer designer of lightweight racing wheelchairs. Circa 1978.
  • Larry Mulholland (Mulholland Inc.) pioneer of the original caster suspension fork to reduce the common problem of bouncing and shimmying in manual wheelchairs. Circa early 1980s.
  • Mike and Ginny Maloco Freedom Designs) pioneers of the folding tilt-in-space and cable-free center of gravity tilt-in-space manual wheelchairs. Circa mid 1980s.
  • Enduro pioneer of mobility frames with integrated seating which offer built-in frame growth. Circa late 1980s.
  • Alber pioneer of the first power assist (e-fix wheel hub drive). Circa 1991.
  • Mark Chelgren (Froglegs) pioneer of the polymer shock absorbing caster fork which dampens vibration and dissipates impact forces. Circa 1996.
  • Todd Hargroder (Accessible Designs Inc.) pioneer of the fully integrated disk brake system with quick release hubs for manual wheelchairs. Circa 2001.
  • Mark Richter (Max Mobility) pioneer of the portable, detachable power assist (“SmartDrive”). Circa 2005.
  • Pat Dougherty (Freewheel) pioneer of the front-wheel attachment that improves navigation across a variety of terrains. Circa 2010.

Power Wheelchairs

  • George Klein (Canadian Veterans Affairs) pioneer of the first modern-day electric wheelchair, designed to address the mobility needs of soldiers who returned from WWII unable to self-propel manual wheelchairs. Circa 1952. (See United Spinal blog post, “Wheelchairs – the Evolution”.)
  • Don Rugg and Bill Orr pioneers of pressure relieving recline system on a power wheelchair (The “Rugg Chair”). Circa 1962 (See Craig Hospital blog post dated April 15, 2015.)
  • Per Udden (Permobil) pioneer of Indoor/Outdoor front-wheel-drive performance power wheelchair. Circa 1968.
  • Dot Pesnick (Goldwater Memorial Hospital) pioneer of the Goldwater Frame which eliminated the cross-brace to allow for vent tray installation. Circa ?
  • Ontario Crippled Children’s Center pioneer of the OCCC Flyer – forerunner to the Fortress Scientific RWD modular power base. Circa ?
  • Fortress Scientific pioneer of the rear-wheel-drive modular power base. Circa 1981.
  • Gary Sandritter and Goff Harris (Craig Hospital) pioneers of the zero-shear power recline system – forerunner to commercial entities Falcon, LaBac and Folio. Circa 1981.
  • Tom Houston (Falcon Rehabilitation Products) pioneer who commercialized the zero-shear sliding seat power recline system and produced the first multi-function (power tilt + recline) power seating system. Circa 1982.
  • Greg Peek (LaBac Systems) pioneer of the zero-shear sliding back power recline system. Circa 1982.
  • Don Patterson (Folio Products) pioneer of the solid seat powered tilt system. Circa 1982.
  • Dan Everard British pioneer of the Turbo pediatric / toddler power wheelchair (original product name “Yellow Peril”) with elevating seat and seat-to-floor functions. Circa 1982.
  • Invacare Corporation pioneer of the H-Frame rear-wheel-drive power base with adjustable seat and wheel positions (Storm Series). Circa 1994.
  • Dean Kamen + Johnson and Johnson Independent Technology pioneers of iBOT, balancing technology allowing for curb and stair climbing and eye level movement and interaction. Circa 1999. (See New Mobility article dated July 2019.)
  • Invacare Corporation pioneer of the 6 Wheel Indoor/Outdoor mid-wheel-drive (TDX). Circa 2003.

Power Control Systems and Specialty Controls

  • Chuck Chevillon + Rehab Institute of Chicago pioneers of the Sip-n-Puff control system. Chevillon coordinated the license of this technology to the Med Group, with Dufco Electronics (Cambria, CA) the best known of the early commercial manufacturers. Circa late 1970s.
  • Do-it Controls pioneer of switch and proportional specialty control systems for wheelchair control, computer access, and environmental controls. Circa early 1980s.
  • Cleveland Machine Controls pioneer of the closed loop, adjustable control system. Circa 1984.
  • Rehab Institute of Montreal + Everest and Jennings Canadian LTD pioneers of the R.I.M. proportional head control system. Circa 1984.
  • David Bayer pioneer of the short-throw mini joystick. Circa 1986.
  • Invacare Corporation pioneer of a software-based control system to accommodate proportional and non-proportional driver input and ECU communication functions. Circa 1988.
  • Rucker Ashmore (Adaptive Switch Labs) pioneer of non-contact head array utilizing proximity sensors. Circa 1992.
  • Bill Tuttle (Peachtree Proportional Head Control System) pioneer who adapted fighter jet technology to create a non-contact proportional control using head positioning as the joystick. Circa 1992.
  • Team Gleason + Evergreen Circuits + Jay Smith (Independence Drive) pioneers of the eye-controlled wheelchair navigation system. Circa 2001.

Seating and Positioning

  • John Rogers (University of TN, Memphis; Rancho Los Amigos) pioneer of custom seating utilizing bean bag and vacuum technology (the “Desmo System”), and first-generation pressure sensors. Circa late 1960s.
  • Robert H. Graebe (ROHO Inc.) pioneer of the original pressure relieving cushion (the “ROHO Cushion”) that has benefited millions of individuals across the world. Circa 1968.
  • Joan Bergman (University of Alabama) pioneer who used weather balloons to develop early solutions in custom molded seating. Circa late 1970s.
  • Marty Carlson (Gillette Children’s Hospital; Tamarack Habilitation) pioneer of the sitting support orthosis and numerous other orthotics-based principles and designs that influenced modern day wheelchair seating. Circa 1978.
  • E. Fernald State School (Boston) pioneer of the first planar seating simulator used internally by Elaine Cox first at the State School in Boston then later in Florida to help with care for the institutionalized client and the transition to community-based homes. Circa late 1970s.
  • Michael Bullard pioneer of the Flamingo Seating Simulator – the first commercially available planar simulator. Circa early 1980s.
  • Doug Hobson (University of Tennessee – Memphis) pioneer of custom seating using a vacuum and bead seat design. Circa early 1980s.
  • Mike Silverman (PinDot Products) pioneer of using computer-aided design in the commercialization of custom molded seating. Circa 1982.
  • Rick Jay (Jay Medical) pioneer of the first wheelchair cushion to utilize the pressure-equalizing benefits of fluid incorporating a stable foam base (the “Jay Cushion”). Circa 1983.
  • Simon Margolis pioneer of the Bi-Angular Back and the Sub-Asis Bar, and influencer over many of today’s CRT practices.
  • Allen Siekman (Stanford University; Beneficial Designs) pioneer of the Anti-Thrust Seat (circa late 1970s) and forerunner of dynamic seating (circa 1990s). Also instrumental in the development of international wheelchair seating standards and testing.
  • Kerry Jones and Cathy Bazata (Rehabilitation Technology Center) pioneers and early influencers of seating and positioning principles incorporated today by numerous manufacturers. Circa 1983.
  • Jody Whitmyer (Whitmyer Biomechanix). Pioneer of numerous head positioning solutions. Circa 1988.
  • Matthew Kosh, David Hintzman (Bodypoint) pioneers of body-contoured hip belt pads and harnesses, the 4-point hip belt and dynamic postural supports that maintain posture while allowing for movement. Circa mid-1990s.
  • Leslie Fitzsimmons (Lakeview Cerebral Palsy School + Stealth Products) pioneer of the i2i head positioning system (original name the “Fitz Headrest”). Circa 2001.
  • Tom Hetzel and Joe Bieganek (Ride Designs/Aspen Seating) pioneers of commercialized Orthotic and Prosthetic wheelchair seating wherein pressure and shear stress are intentionally and specifically applied to low-risk anatomy, thus allowing the cushion contours to be separated from the high-risk areas (off-loading). Circa 1998.

Standing

  • Per Udden (Permobil) pioneer of standing technology on a power mobility base. Circa 1968.
  • LEVO pioneer of the standing frame manual wheelchair. Circa 1976.
  • Larry Mulholland (Mulholland Inc.) pioneer of a prone standing system which provides graduated weight-bearing and external postural control. Circa early 1980s.
  • Bruce and Mary Boegel (Prime Engineering) pioneers of the hydraulic standing frame for safe, independent use in the home. Circa 1984.

The Latest and Greatest (Innovations in 2020)

  • Permobil pioneer of the Explorer Mini – new access to powered mobility for infants.
  • Barry and Jered Dean (LUCI) pioneers of a sensor-fusion hardware / software technology platform for power wheelchairs that prevents tips, collisions and falls before they happen.

This has been an eye-opening experience for both of us. We were under the impression that as industry veterans we would know much about the history of products, innovations, and pioneers in this industry we love. It turns out that reality is very different and there is so much more!

Having realized that there is “so much more” we also understand that there is “STILL… SO MUCH MORE”! We are hoping and in fact anxiously waiting for all of you who share this wonderful profession and who practice in the CRT industry to step forward and share your stories about pioneers and the development of products and modalities that shaped today’s CRT industry. Your knowledge is where much of the history of CRT is currently recorded, so it is most important to share what is in your memory banks so it can be properly documented for both current and future generations of CRT professionals.