Every youngster loves to explore and Emmett is no exception. The challenge is that there are some places that simply are not accessible. We have gone down paths with his powerchair that literally shook him and his chair to pieces. We have the incredible "We Carry Kevan" backpack - that we refer to as the "We Carry Emmett" backpack and it opens an entire new world of exploration. However, it also requires a relatively strong and fit carrier or, honestly, more than one. The "We Carry Kevan" backpack will be an ongoing part of our equipment for Emmett, however, he is a big boy and carrying him on your back is quite a weight so we began to explore other options. Over the years we have seen extremely expensive tracked wheelchairs that start at about $20,000 Canadian or the 6x6 wheelchair at an unspecified price - they are simply out of our league. Not to mention how easy would they be to transport and, more importantly, would they offer the head and neck support that Emmett requires.
Then there's manual chairs - there's the Hippocampe Chair (there isn't a specific website but a search will provide many 3rd party sales opportunities) which we borrowed for two weeks this past spring from Sunny Hill Health Centre in Vancouver, a great local resource and support for children with physical challenges - and who have a range of loaner equipment! The Hippocampe Chair starts at about $5,500 Canadian and would be more like $7,000+ when set up properly for Emmett. The Extreme Motus is another chair which offers off-road capabilities with someone pushing from behind. We first found this Extreme Motus chair in a for sale ad on Vancouver Island (but it was a very large size that Emmett wouldn't fit) and a significant price. New this chair is close to $6,000 Canadian. And none of these prices include taxes/shipping/duty/etc. They were simply out of reach.
So just like several other items you will find on the Resources Page, we decided to design and build our own. This was not as easy as some of our other projects and from the initial idea to the finished, not that any project is ever really finished, product it was probably 10 months and it involved a lot of hands. But both Emmett and his little brother, Theodore, love it! Now the first thing I should share is a problem. You cannot go everywhere with this all-terrain chair. There are some paths that are too narrow. There are some trails that have barriers to limit the trail to pedestrian traffic and, unless the all-terrain chair can be lifted over these barriers, this literally stops most wheelchair users from accessing them; a lot of strollers too! The good thing about this all-terrain chair is that it handles curbs with no issue, going down stairs is actually pretty simple (up requires more muscles), gravel/sand/mud/not-too-deep water a breeze. Check out the video at the bottom of this page to view Emmett and family tackling a fun hike that is impassible with a normal wheelchair!
So once we decided to build our own, we drew up some plans. From there we went to PAD designs. You may have heard of CAD designs and I don't have the skill for that (well, I have used CAD a few times when it's been Cardboard Assisted Design), but I've used PAD designs multiple times. This stands for Plywood Assisted Designs. That's right, the frame was first built out of plywood to provide an idea of how it would look and work. We also started gathering parts. The low pressure all-terrain wheels - this was probably the biggest expense of this build. We went to a local metal supplier for the aluminum pieces for the frame, rod for the axles, tubing for the handle bars. (Initially I had thought of using a bicylce handlebar set but we ended up building them from scratch.) The aluminum race seat and 6-point race harness. Mountain bike brake calipers, rotors, levers, and cables from a local bike shop added to the cost. Then coming up with a plan as to how to attach the brake rotors to the rear wheels. This involved working with a local machine shop to create some of the custom pieces that would have been too challenging to create in a home garage. Then taking all of the pieces to my friend Paulo, who is an amazing guy plus an awesome fabricator, who has known Emmett since he was less than six months old. Paulo was onboard from the initial idea and truly brought this project to completion. Gaps in my plans were filled in by Paulo. I posted on FaceBook that I was looking for a race seat and expired safety belts and my friend Burton, at 2nd Gen Racing, let me know that he had a small Kirkey aluminum race seat plus expired belts that he would provide for the project. If you're wondering about aluminum, apart from the fact that it is light and strong, stay tuned next spring as we will not only be taking Emmett onto the beach with this chair but we will be going right into the water! Without having to worry about it rusting!
Theodore loves the All-Terrain Chair and he's had a few rides in it and has claimed it as his own; but he does seem to understand that it really is Emmetts. I've squeezed into it but don't really fit but Emmett's mom is quite comfortable going for a ride in it. Of course, she and Emmett apparently also share some of the same clothes! Functionally the chair is finished but there are still some extras that we'd like to add. We need to have a framework/carrier to hold Emmett's suction machine. Possibly a hook or attachment to mount the food pump. And for the pusher a cup holder would be a nice touch. And while us old people are hoping that there is no snow, Emmett would love to try the All-Terrain Chair out in some deep snow. Me, not so much. I want to take it out into a lake and see if it floats!