Wheelchair is the new coal [UPDATED!]

[This post has been updated with material at the end]

Pearlsky got her new wheelchair! Remember the nightmare ordering it?

And guess what? Go ahead … guess. I dare you …

IT DOES NOT WORK!!! They delivered a bum wheelchair, we have a disabled wheelchair (just like Pearlsky). And it is scratched (just like Pearlsky’s nose).

I only have multiple engineering degrees and this is our fifth chair, so I may not know what I am talking about, so can you help me out? Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Question … do the wheels have to point straight ahead for the wheelchair to go straight?


As you see, the footrest is in the way when the chair is not tilted. The front wheel (technically “caster”) is blocked and does not go straight! Yes, they delivered this. Yes, they claim to have tested the chair.

Scratches? What scratches?

IMG_3980 38e253 IMG_3997

Brand new, delivered wrapped in plastic, new fresh scratches! I wonder if we paid extra for them, the thing only cost about $6000.

The technician who assembled the chair claims he never saw scratches nor did he scratch it. After assembling the unscratched chair, and not scratching it, and testing it (!), he wrapped it. I unwrapped it. So I guess I scratched it (should not have used that crowbar and jaws of life to remove the plastic bag draped over it), I changed the footrest to one that would block the wheel, then gave it to Pearlsky. She’ll never notice, and as long as we only go in circles (which I feel I am doing most of the time) we are all set.

The cables are poorly placed, there are four for all the tilts. We purchased the backpack for the wheelchair, but it cannot hang on the back because of poor cable design. Why do they need four cable levers instead of two? And the placement is poor. The red highlight on the right image is my highlight of some of the cables. For the want of a few five cent cable ties …


Want to hear the full story, complete with emails?

SL, our favorite DME (Durable Medical Equipment) guy who works for our least favorite DME company brings in the wrapped chair. As soon as we unwrap it, I see the scratches and point them out. No real comment. We move on.

I tilt the chair so it is straight up and find that it cannot move. We see the wheels are blocked by the footrest. “That appears to happen only when it is fully upright, do you do that often?” he says. “Not really” I tell him and we move on.

Doctor, it hurts when I do this.

Don’t do that.

We are now all of three minutes into the delivery and the only thing dilated is my blood pressure. We put Pearlsky in the chair and make necessary adjustments. There are cables for the reclining back that are twisted and in the way for the included backpack to be hung (i.e.: I also purchased their backpack for the chair which cannot go on the chair because they put the cables in the way). SL and I want to know if the cables must be there or can we untwist and move them, so I call the manufacturer’s customer service. Susan has no clue, but will get back to me. Instead of waiting, I call the actual chair designer (spoke to him during the ordering fiasco) at home! Great guy, remembers me. I ask him about the cables, “no problem, just move them and test it.” Great! Then I say …

Do you need to know about the footrest not allowing the casters to be straight?

Oh lord, yes.

I put SL on the phone. We learn that when the chair is ordered all the parts are input into the manufacturer’s computer for said order, if a particular size frame, and specific size casters, and this footrest are input, a “soft red flag” pops up. A “hard red flag” means “no way will we sell this combination of parts.” A “soft red flag” means “tell the customer this is a dumb combination of parts and problematic and see if they really really want it.” My combination raised a soft red flag. SL was never told. I was never told. So the manufacturer sold me a chair that they knew was sub par.

We are excited about the new chair, have lots of respect for SL, it is late in the day. I figure I can get a bit of touch up paint, and I don’t think the chair needs to be at zero tilt (fully upright, or is that a 90° tilt?) too often. We finish up. SL gives me papers to sign, I can’t tell you what they said since he did not have a copy to leave with me, but will send them by email in the morning. Never got them. I know I should have told him to take the chair back … a weak moment I guess. But I re-grouped fairly quickly. Here, my friends, is the email trail. It is mostly one way, the DME company rarely returns emails … you remember, the CEO is afraid of cripple cooties, won’t go near cripples or their families, will not respond to emails at all … and most of the company follows his lead.

Dear SL: A friend came in the evening and took one look at the chair and we started talking. I got rather perturbed that in fact I accepted it.

When you were here, I was happy with it, knowing the limitations and defects. My friend instantly noted the scratches, and since she uses a chair with her mom, she right away tilted it up to see how it feels compared to her mom’s. Of course she found that it does not work without a tilt. First she asked if anyone at the DME tested the chair once it was assembled, then she asked if school or the PT use it at 90 degrees, which of course I do not know. The more we spoke, the more “buyer’s remorse” I had.

Also, to make matters worse, when I took the harness off Pearlsky, her pink sweatshirt had a black outline of the harness! I sent an email to your COO since she was very interested, as you know, as to how the chair was. I told her about the mystery “red flag” and it’s implications, how the chair does not work when upright, all the scratches, and shared pictures of the chair.

I need to refuse acceptance of the chair and return it. I greatly appreciate your help and support and fully understand that I was happy with it at first, but at what the cost of the chair is, and the importance to Pearlsky, it is not right to have a chair that even the factory “red flags” as being sub-par.

To which he responds:

I will come by on Monday if that is ok with you to discuss and see what needs to be done to correct the caster hitting the frame when the chair is down. I will make every effort to try to solve the problem and see what changes need to occur to clear the casters. I will not pass in the delivery ticket until the chair is to your satisfaction.. Just let me know about Monday if that’s ok if not I will work with time  and day that works for you. Thanks.

Not exactly the same as taking it back, no mention of the scratches. I speak to her aide at school and write back to SL:

Some additional information:

I just spoke with Pearlsky’s school aide. They put the chair at zero tilt often, always to get her up to the table in the classroom and she just makes it under without hitting her knees and also often when she is working with things on her tray. The way the new chair is now, they cannot get her up to the table or out from it since the chair will not go straight in or out without a tilt or it will certainly scrape if not break her knees. She says there really is no headway and thinks there is at most an inch of space, there can’t be any tilt.

This means that even if you change the axle on the casters, which may allow them to work at zero tilt, there is a good chance that the added inch (from moving the axle to the lower hole, one inch down) will prohibit Pearlsky from being at the table with all of her classmates since that inch must go somewhere, in this case raising her knees. Additionally, that would make her frame permanently not level (un-level?), something the factory obviously does not see as a viable option (hence “red flag”). The frame must be level.

I thought about switching the foot rest for the old one on her current chair (“current” because we are not using the new one today) but then was wondering why the new chair should have five year old foot rests.

Can you look into an appropriate type of touch up paint also? And is there not any type of cover for the back of the seat that is removable? I wash her current one at least monthly so it does not smell, someone must make a removable cover? What is the name of the back, since I don’t have the list of parts, maybe I can look on the internet.

My first choice is clearly to have you take the chair back to a different tech and have a different model footrests installed. Is this the same tech who did not test the pistons upon installing them on the last chair? The swinging ones are fine, we just won’t swing them as with the current chair.

My second choice is also to have you take the chair back and just return it to Sunrise Medical since they did not tell anyone about the red flag and that they sold us a chair in unusable combination. Maybe for the $6000 I can just keep repairing the current one. Or I can sell this on ebay?

My third choice is to have Paul [regional supervisor] come here, look me in the eye, and tell me that the tech is competent and compassionate (as he has stated) and did not scratch the chair and did test it, tell me that S is competent and compassionate (as he has stated) and did not forget to pass on important paperwork, and to tell me that the entire staff is competent and compassionate and did not ignore red flags. You appear to be the only competent and compassionate one.

Seriously, would you accept a car that was scratched, could not go in reverse in a straight line, and did not have all the paper work and was red flagged by the manufacturer? Would you? Would your wife (yes, I am being sexist) accept a new washing machine that was scratched, only worked on certain cycles, had a warning from the manufacturer and partial paper work? Pearlsky’s chair is her most prized possession, she basically lives in it. Why should she accept less? Is this fair to Pearlsky? Can Paul come here and explain to Pearlsky, face to face, why she should have a scratched, sub-par chair? She is the one that loses here, not me, not you, Pearlsky.

I am having a plaque made for your office … “Don’t fuck up Pearlsky’s chairs” … for now, how about a yellow sticky note? Is it just us? Why has EVERY delivery or repair had an issue?

To answer your question, Pearlsky and I are available all next week, except Monday before noon.

Have a great Christmas with your family.

I then wrote directly to the DME regional supervisor:

By now you probably have heard of the problems with Pearlsky’s new wheelchair or possibly read my emails.

Last time your staff showed it’s capabilities, you called me and strongly and clearly vouched for the compassion and competence of the technician who completely fouled up, and of S who similarly showed her (complete lack of) abilities. I only mind your blinders when they affect my daughter. We agreed on SL’s abilities, but why is he always playing “clean up”? He continually has to scramble to fix other people’s messes.

Please do not call me with testimonials for your staff again. Pearlsky may be retarded but I am not.

Please use your energy in delivering to my severely disabled daughter a product of the quality that a normal person would want for themselves, a product approved by the manufacturer, a product that is worth what is paid for.

Are you proud of this?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

I know when he read it, the email had a return receipt on it. He has not responded.

Finally, I wrote to SL:

You are probably wondering what changed, why my attitude is so different than when you were here. You deserve an explanation.

My friend came by to drop off a rent check at dinnertime and saw the chair. As mentioned in my email, she immediately commented on the scratches and that it did not work when upright. Her comment was “Why did you accept this?”

I was on the phone with my mother, telling her about the chair. She asked, “Why did you take delivery?” Then she asked if what I signed said I cannot return it. I had to admit I signed something without having a copy. “I don’t know, mom.” Ouch.

I told Pearlsky’s mom about the chair. “Why did you take it?” she said immediately.

The aide from school simply said, “It sounds like it won’t work at all. The old breaking one is much better.”

My anger today? Almost all at myself. I am really really upset with myself, completely. I failed Pearlsky and disappointed myself. Maybe it was my respect for you that I did not tell you to take it back, or my being excited about finally having a new chair, or I just fucked up. I take that responsibility. But I am very upset and disappointed that I accepted less for Pearlsky than I would for myself. If this was a friend of mine relating a story about her child’s chair, and the circumstances were the same, I would tell her to immediately demand it be taken back and she go to a different vendor. Why do I do less for my daughter?

I hope this does not cause you too much grief, you are too good an employee to tell me if it does, but I hope not.

I am terribly sorry I failed Pearlsky, and sorry to put you in any position that may come from this. It is not, and should not be your problem.

Gotta go find some eggnog …

SL has told me he will be here Wednesday to take back the chair.

Vivian Blaine as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls


I keep seeing the chair in the house, so on Saturday morning, Dec. 26, I decide to write to the chair manufacturer. Note that I was in touch with them when we were ordering it, and they were great. So I write to Sheila at Sunrise Medical, the manufacturer of the Zippy Iris chair we now own (and are returning). I strongly believe the lack of testing and the scratches are because of the DME tech, the intermediary between Sunrise Medical and Pearlsky and me. My memory tells me that Sheila is at the top of customer service, she is some “big shot” at Sunrise. One reason I am adding this update is because I sent the email to Sheila at 1:56 PM on Saturday of a holiday weekend figuring I would get a response some time next week. The response came at 4:34 PM the same day! Incredible customer service and I still highly recommend their company. The chair will be great … I have no doubt. Another note, other websites have picked up this post and people are finding it from disability blogs, etc. I have no idea how, but that is pretty cool.

Okay, the emails to Sunrise (again, as opposed to the other emails in this post that went to the DME, and of course, the regional manager has not gotten back to me  …). My email does show off either my attention to detail, geekiness, or anal tendencies (ooh, the next poll!). Do note that if your child has a wheelchair, you may be interested in some of these points, just glaze over the overly geeky sentences but tell me if you agree with the other stuff. Especially if you have too many adjustment handles and need to wash the chair all too often.


As you probably know by now (see email from last Wednesday), I have a brand new (albeit scratched) Zippie Iris wheelchair which is unusable. (If interested, there are pictures of the condition of the chair and description of the problems here). It is being returned to the DME this coming Wednesday. Having this one sit unused for a few days brings up several technical questions and design issues and I’d like to ask and raise. Any help or information is greatly appreciated.

1. As it is now, the front caster is blocked by the foot rest when the chair is upright, no tilt. This is what makes the chair unusable to us as it can become impossible to move the chair up to and away from a table when there is about an inch clearance above my daughter’s knees. Can you tell me specifically what other foot rest models / styles are available that will indeed make the chair usable? We have two concerns, one being that the chair works, but the other is the overall length of the chair, from the very front of the foot rest to the rear of the chair, is minimized. If there are any foot rests that will work with these casters and this frame, which are the “shortest”? I need this information before we attempt to re-order and hopefully that will be on Wednesday.

2. All the cables and four levers are problematic. There is a rat’s nest of them in the back of the chair (as delivered) and there is no place to put a backpack. The tech removed the “T45 Release Lever Mounting Block” to unwind the cables and I was planning on getting some cable ties to clean up the area and make room for the backpack. Rich assured us that this would not be an issue. The bigger issue is that there are four levers and once I own the chair I would like to make some modifications to the lever placement and am wondering if any of these options will effect the integrity of the chair.

  • One solution is that I would move the two recliner lever assemblies to a position on the underside of the horizontal part of the reclining back tube just in front of the cross adjustable bar. This will allow the cables to run along the reclining back tube and clear the area for the backpack. I would need to use other lever assemblies, such as that used on bicycles, unless you have an assembly that mounts upside down. Additionally, can I purchase two of the plastic handles used in the recliner lever assembly to use in the tilt lever assembly since the shorter lever/handle would be advantageous to us?
  • A better option would be to combine the cables so that there is one lever for the tilt and one lever for the recline. Do you make or offer a dual lever mechanism? These are widely available rather inexpensively. I would use one for tilt and one for recline.
  • Another solution is a device called The Break Director. It enables two cables to be controlled by one single cable lever. This is a more expensive solution than the dual lever, but it uses the levers currently on the chair. I would use one of the current tilt levers for the tilt cables and the other current tilt lever for recline.

3. I find it mind boggling that there is not a removable cover for the back (so I am told by the DME). I understand the back is manufactured by a company affiliated with yours, and the cover specifies it is manufactured by Sunrise Medical. With this cover I will need to remove 20 screws before I can unzip and remove it. Do you sell a cover that is one size larger than this one? If so, how much larger? If I had one that was about a half inch larger (width and length) and maybe a touch larger in depth, I can cut and sew it in such a way that it can be velcro’ed over the current cover and be washable. This is the fifth chair I will own, and I have a combined 25 years worth of experience of a child in one of your chairs. Trust me, the back needs to be washed, if I don’t wash the covers (including the back) at least monthly, they all start to smell.

4. It appears that the covers of the laterals can be slightly modified so that they, too, may be washed. Do you have a removable cover? I don’t want to try this with the chair that I am returning, but it seems that if I remove the curved lateral thoracic pad (two screws), take off the cover, I can attach the inside pad directly to the support. Then the cover should slip over the pad and the support arm. Two small velcro straps can then hold the cover on and allow it to be removed without undoing the two screw every time and compromising the threads (not sure how they screw into the pads).

We are looking forward to our fifth Zippie as the technical improvements (each time) are wonderful.

Any and all information is greatly appreciated.

I sent a blind copy to a beloved friend, her response was:

Perhaps it is because you are an engineer and literally design, fix your designs (enhance?), and perform customer service with your products that makes you so crazy with the wheelchair stuff. You know how doctors make the worst patients? Maybe an engineer in your line of work makes a crazed consumer of gadgetry in general!!

Less than three hours later (Saturday of a holiday weekend) Sheila writes:

I was not aware as I was out of the office on Wednesday.

I am sorry to hear that your daughter’s chair condition, set-up, and function presented the issues you have raised.  I have read through the areas that you need my support to respond to, as well as the link you included.  I will be in the office Monday and have already reached out to other associates who I will need help from in responding to your questions.   Let me do some coordination and work to get you a response.

Now that is a company to believe in. We will see what they say and do, as well as what comes of the DME company who I understand is going to do the right thing. I just don’t know why they have not gotten it right the last four thousand times …

(As for the holiday weekend, we did not make it to a movie theater, but watched Nemo, Joe’s Apartment (Pearlsky and I love that one) and The Blues Brothers. And had Chinese food, twice.)


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