How long is the wheelchair?

A simple question, no?

NO. Nothing is simple, it is all freaking uphill. Sometimes I just want to sit back and shake my head, but alas, I can’t.

It is time to order a new wheelchair. Sandro from National Seating comes over, he is a fantastic DME guy. I hear their guy in Anahiem is also great. Anyway, Sandro comes over, we pick all the specs for my daughter’s new chair (and no, I vetoed the nanny’s request of hot pink). The sticking part was … do I get a reclining back (in addition to the tilt-and-space) or the fixed back.

How much does the length of the chair change between the two types of back?

Simple question. He says he thinks it is four inches, the chair with the reclining back will be four inches longer, and I say that is too much, let’s stick with the fixed back.

The next day I have buyer’s remorse. We talk and decide that I will contact the manufacturer, Sunrise Medical, and he will contact their local guy, to find the exact difference in chair length depending on which back I get. I prefer the reclining but length (in this case) is an issue, and shorter is better ūüėČ as far as the chair goes.

Sandro tells me the Sunrise Medical Account Manager physically measured it and got 4 inches. I spoke to customer service, really pressed that I needed an accurate answer, was not allowed to speak to an engineer, but they called me back and said “the expert” said zero inches, the chairs would be the same length.

Come on folks, NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. Why is it always uphill? Does ZERO = FOUR in your book? Do I beleive the account manager who measured or the customer service “expert” who may or may not have?

Punchline … emails!

Sunrise Medical is a FANTASTIC company to work with (buy Sunrise Medical), they really came through (buy Sunrise Medical). They make the Zippie and Iris chairs for kids (buy Sunrise Medical). Use them (buy Sunrise Medical) or at least check them out. Make sure your DME guy is a good to work with as Sandro (or tell me, I know people!) (buy Sunrise Medical). Also, note, that Sunrise Medical is NOT cripple-cootie-phobic, their CEO may just be cripple-cootie-philic!

So (buy Sunrise Medical), if you want the sorid tale, (buy Sunrise Medical) hit the more tag. I warn you that you will really think I need to get a life.

I get on the web, find the CEO of Sunrise Medical and his “Do The Right Thing” company documents. I call and get the name of the VP of customer service. Note, I write to her, the VP, and copy the CEO.

subject: Someone is not Doing The Right Thing

Dear Ms. Delany:

In part, CEO Cannizzaro clearly states on page 7 of Sunrise Medical’s “business code of conduct, Do The Right Thing,” “All forms of advertisements will be authentic, and no product will be promoted for a use other than its specifications. These same principles must be adhered to when responding to inquiries from customers, fellow associates, the media, and regulatory or government agencies.”

My daughter is 16 and severely disabled. Her wheelchair is everything to her, period. The specifications of such are vital. We are now in the midst of purchasing our fifth Zippie chair (her third, my son is in his second), this time the Iris.

My vendor is National Seating and Mobility (NSM). Their fantastic representative was at our home and we picked out all the parts needed for the new chair. The one question left was if we wanted the static chair back or the reclining one. My rep said that using the reclining one would cause the chair to be longer since it needed specific handrails, etc. His not knowing exactly how much longer, and the fact that this measurement is vital to us, prompted me to call your customer service. At the same time, my rep contacted your rep, Mr. Steve Boucher.

At 1 pm on September 30, I spoke with D in customer service at your facility (800.333.4000). I carefully explained my question. I specifically said I needed the distance from front of chair to back to be minimal. I asked her to imagine looking at the chair from the side and specified my concern was from the end of the foot rest where my daughter’s toes would be to the end of the handle I would hold. I also asked her to imagine an aerial view of the chair. Very carefully (and almost obnoxiously, I would add) I repeated what I needed. I clearly stated the question … “If the chair has the non-reclining seat and the parts such as the handrails that work with it are chosen to keep that measurement minimal, is the measurement the same if I purchase the reclining chair back and use whatever parts I need to. I understand I would need different handrails. Do any dimensions need to be increased for the reclining back?

D repeatedly assured me the measurement would be the same. Repeatedly. I then told her my local NSM representative said it would be longer with the reclining back. I reminder her that other handles would be necessary. D said he was wrong. I asked her if she could double and triple check this, it was vital. She called me back about ten minutes later and told me that L “the expert in this” agrees there is “no difference in width or length of the chair.”

I learn this morning that your local representative, Mr. Steve Boucher, physically measured what the difference is, and responds with “four inches.” He says the chair with the reclining back needs to be four inches longer. Yes, size does matter.

“Do the right thing” is your logo, apparently your corporate crusade, and it is a great document. Can someone “do the right thing” and tell me the correct, simple answer so that we don’t spend thousands of dollars on a chair we cannot use?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

She quickly responded with:

Thank you for taking the time to share your experience.  While this is not the kind of experience we want to create, hearing it from our customer gives me an opportunity to take a deeper look and make changes that will address areas where we can improve.

If you are able to share a contact number where I could reach you by phone I would like to talk with you personally.  If you would prefer email just let me know.  I am in the process of taking a deeper look into what happened but will plan to get back with you as soon as I have had a chance to understand.

Thank You

I send her my phone number. She calls and we discuss it some more. She promises to get back to me. I send the following email to HER, the VP, and again, I copy the CEO.

I want to thank you for your phone call and your efforts on behalf of my daughter and me.

To reiterate one thing, I knew during my phone call with D that I should be talking directly to a technical person, and said so. Multiple engineering degrees and multiple wheelchairs taught me when I need to get directly to a tech or designer, but alas, I was not allowed that connection.

I am thrilled that your engineer (I believe) will work with Sandro from NSM or me and somehow we will get all the proper information so that I can make an informed decision as to what will be best for my daughter and me.

You are an asset to your company, and I hope that Mr. Cannizzaro is aware of such!

Thank you for your time and efforts.

Then the CEO proved that he cares … he sent this unsolicited email …

Sheila is the essence of the best of what Sunrise Medical is all about.

Simple, nothing about me or the issue, but he let’s me know that 1) he is reading the emails, 2) he got my praise, and 3) he is not afraid of cripple cooties like too many others.

The next day¬†I get a call telling me there is an email waiting for me and just checking in, actually. On the phone is the VP and the “expert” from customer service. I go and check my email to find … in part …

Please see the attached specs from our Engineering Dept.

These specs represent overall length based on the quote we have in-house that includes a custom front end.  They also include the overall height, based on different backrest heights you might select (although the quote we have in-house is for a medium fixed back height).  I thought this might help you think about the overall push handle height. 

Engineering specs! Then, at the end of the day Friday, I called the engineer. Great guy. We spoke for a bit. Engineer to engineer, mano-a-mano! Finally! (I added the red letters)

chair_sClick here to see it larger and refer to it (why you would, I am not sure) and below is my final email. For now. If you are still reading, don’t let the technical parts of this email stop you, there are some good points in there about wheelchair positioning, just ignore the geeky parts.

Let’s see if they get the hint and will customize a chair for us …


I want to thank you and your team for all the efforts and information gathering for me and my daughter. Your company certainly has some wonderful customer service, and where it may slightly fail, your quick fix is impressive. Michael is on target with “do the right thing.” You do.

I want to share with you the final outcome of my question but more than that, I would like to share my thought process as I try to order the new chair for my daughter. I certainly hope that some insight into a “typical” (if I may be¬† so bold) customer’s thinking process will help with future designs.

I have reproduced the engineering drawing that Rich created and annotated it for ease of this discussion since I do not know all of the proper terms and want to be as clear as possible.

First, the punch line. No one answered correctly! The answer to my question is 1.26 inches.

The original question was, with all else equal, what is the minimal difference in length of the chair if the only change is the reclining vs. fixed back. Looking at the attached picture, measurement “A” is the minimal configuration, fixed back, no handle extension. Measurement “B” is the maximum configuration with the understanding that folding handle “C” up or down 10 or 20 degrees will bring it within measurement B. Thus, handle “F,” the only one available with the reclining back, is the limiting factor in calculating the length with the reclining back. Hence, B – A = 1.26 inches. I sort of¬† understand where the answers “zero” and “four” inches came from, but if I was in fact allowed to speak to “the engineer” when I first asked, the true answer would have been immediately at hand. A conversation with your utterly fantastic engineer, Rich Schneider, at the end of Friday cleared everything up.

At this point, our trail of me and customer service is done, I have my answer, THANK YOU. I will continue to work through this with Sandro (the fantastic guy from National Seating). If you want to see the problems I have now with the chair, and learn what a customer goes through, read on.

Unfortunately, things have become more difficult for me, a simple number is not large enough to enforce a decision. I am concerned about the length of the chair for many reasons, but since an inch and a quarter is minimal, that is not the deciding factor when it comes to the reclining or fixed back. The issue comes down to the handles and the back. It is my understanding that the reclining back can only be purchased with handle “F” in the drawing.

We currently have the fixed back with handle D with E, the removable stroller extension. This raises the height of the crossbar which is great since I am over six feet tall. More important is the “crook,” the inner part of the extension, the curve itself. This area of the chair is invaluable. For example, when we get to the hospital for an appointment (extraordinarily often) I take off my coat and my daughter’s and I lie them over the handles, in the crook. Two down coats. Other times, her nanny will hang her purse straps over this area where it can’t fall or an umbrella across it in case of rain. I can go on, but this spot has turned out to be extremely valuable.

Handle C, which is height adjustable, may be able to serve the same purpose or more. Folded up, that crook sort of exists. As important, it will make the chair much more convenient for when I am controlling it, or can easily be modified so that the nanny, over a foot shorter than I, can use it with ease. Potentially ideal.

Handle F offers no advantages. No crook, not easily modified in height.

Now the back. My daughter’s current chair has a fixed back. When she takes medications, we tip the chair back, either using the tilt and space, or more often, I just pull down on the stroller extension (we do not use the anti-tip feature) and bring the outside of the crook to my lap and quickly give her her meds.

One issue is when we take long trips as we are want to do. When the chair is secured properly in the van, the tilt and space does not work, nor can I tip the chair. To make quick stop for meds, I need to undo the chair and typically remove her from the vehicle. Not quick. If in fact she had a reclining back, this would be trivial.

A very difficult daily chore is placing a lift sling around my daughter while she is in her chair. It is uncomfortable for her and difficult for us. A reclining back would actually make this easier on all. Now, she must be bent forward, extremely uncomfortable and at times painful for her, in order to get the sling behind her and all the way down to the seat. If I could recline the back, she can then stay upright while we do this.

There have been times where she actually slept the night in her chair (medical reasons) since she needed to be more upright than her bed allows (even a hospital bed, she would slip down). The chair, with a 50 degree back tilt would be ideal for those times, eliminating the ever present fear of nighttime aspiration.

I do not know if she would like the reclining back at other times since she is completely non-communicative, but I can think of many times where it would help, such as during a nap in her chair.

Dilemma … her needs or her caretakers? The handles make no difference to her, the reclining back vs. fixed makes no difference to us. Almost universally her needs come first, but that cannot be hard and fast, for reasons beyond the scope of the tome.

Ideally, we want a reclining back with the height adjustable handle C, I believe. An extremely close second, the reclining back with the removable stroller extension, E. Alas, it is my understanding you do not offer either combination.

So, the best back for my daughter with the worst handle for me and her other caretakers (reclining back and fixed straight handle F) or the second choice back (fixed) with a superior handle?

Do I understand correctly? I certainly hope I have no idea what I am talking about and the ideal is doable. Please let me know.

Oh, and by the way, an integrated cup holder would be a godsend. Just don’t offer it exclusive on handle F!

Thank you for your time and considerations.


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