People with mobility challenges face a lot of hurdles just to live what the rest of us consider normal lives. The world is not built to accommodate people with mobility issues, so someone with limited mobility has to adapt. Thankfully there are many ways to do that. Composite materials are making some of those ways of adapting even better.
For the purposes of illustrating how composites are being integrated into the world of mobility, this article will focus on wheelchair mobility. The paragraphs below describe three ways composites are improving mobility for manual wheelchair users. Needless to say that composites are changing the way people with mobility issues live their lives.
1. Composites Make for Easier Movement
A person confined to a manual wheelchair either wheels him/herself around or relies on someone else to push him/her. In either case, moving an occupied wheelchair is not an easy task. The person doing the moving has to move both the weight of the wheelchair and its passenger. A standard wheelchair alone can weigh anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds.
A composite wheelchair made primarily of carbon fiber is substantially lighter. There are some chairs on the market that weigh in at less than 10 pounds, thanks to a heavy reliance on composite tubing and plastics. This is a great benefit to users who have a lot less weight to deal with getting from point A to point B.
In simple terms, composites make for easier movement. Less weight means the person pushing a wheelchair is not trying to move so much dead weight. The person wheeling him/herself around also finds the lighter wheelchair easier to maneuver.
2. Composites Make for Easier Transport
Manual wheelchair users are more likely to transport their chairs in the trunks of their cars. But getting a manual chair into a trunk is physically strenuous. The user has to lift 20 to 45 pounds of dead weight, turn it sideways, and then maneuver it into place without damaging anything. As you might imagine, it takes an awful lot of work to transport a manual wheelchair this way.
Just as lightweight composites make movement easier, they also make for easier transport. It is a lot easier to lift a 10-pound wheelchair into the trunk of a car than a comparable chair that weighs four times as much. As an added benefit, a wheelchair user who would otherwise transport his/her chair on an external rack can now get the chair out of the elements and into the trunk instead.
3. Composites Make for Stronger Chairs
Last but not least, producing manual wheelchairs using composite materials makes those chairs stronger. Rock West Composites, a Utah company that deals in materials like carbon fiber tubing, says that carbon fiber is stronger than steel and aluminum despite weighing considerably less.
Any wheelchair you can buy has a weight limit. When you are talking aluminum chairs, a chair with a higher weight limit is also a chair that is going to weigh more. But substituting aluminum with carbon fiber changes the game. A chair made with carbon fiber tubing can accommodate higher weight limits without increasing the weight of the chair itself. This means a stronger chair capable of doing a lot more work.
Composite materials are improving life in so many ways. The good news for people with mobility issues is that manufacturers are starting to turn to composites to help them, too. All sorts of mobility devices are getting lighter and stronger thanks to composites, and that is making life easier for people who depend on them.