A Northumbria University student has invented a revolutionary evacuation wheelchair that could save lives in emergencies because it has the capability to go down stairs without someone else pushing it.
Health and safety legislation and the Fire Brigade recommend that people do not use lifts to exit buildings during emergencies. However, for people with mobility problems this raises a serious issue as they become dependent on their friends and colleagues to assist their safe escape.
Simon Kingston, who graduated this year with a first class honours degree in Design for Industry has come up with a solution to this problem by designing a wheelchair with a tracked roller system at the front to control the chair's descent and a tri-wheel that allows it to go down each step individually without assistance.
Simon approached staff at Northumbria University's School of Health, Community & Education Studies to find out what equipment was lacking or needed improvement in the health industry. They advised him that, as a result of new government legislation, companies have a responsibility to get disabled people out of buildings safely but initial findings were that people did not want to commit to being responsible for getting another person out of a building using the current wheelchairs that need a secondary operator. As a result Simon came up with his idea for the Multiscape wheelchair.
The chair's arm lever works in a similar fashion to a ratchet screwdriver which propels the wheelchair down the stairs when it is pushed forward. The wheel system at the front of the chair controls the speed and descent down stairs whilst gears attached to the arm lever and the tri-wheel underneath allow the chair to descend, move along flat ground and turn on the spot, making it ideal for manoeuvring around tight corners on stairwells.
Simon feels that it could easily be adapted to everyday wheelchairs and be made to go up stairs as well which would solve many of the accessibility problems that disabled people face.
Simon said: "I definitely think this could be adapted to a normal wheelchair, I also think it could be made to go upstairs by using either hydraulics or a small motor. The reason I didn't apply that sort of technology is because there would have been far too much work involved for a final year University project so I thought I would focus on the evacuation aspect."
Carrie Withers, Senior Lecturer for Occupational Therapy in the School of Health Community & Education Studies at Northumbria University said: "I think the wheelchair is a really revolutionary idea that could fill a much needed gap in the health service industry to enable escape for disabled people whilst minimising the risk to others.
"I really applaud his initiative and hope that Simon can find a manufacturer for the wheelchair so that it could become available at an affordable price for organisations. His ideas for modifications so it can ascend as well as descend should continue to be explored, as the modern neat design would appeal to a range of wheelchair users."
The chair has already received interest from disability groups in the North East of England and Simon is hoping to get financial backing to put the chair into production.