The History of the Wheelchair Assessment Service in New Zealand: From Client Centred to Client Directed

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper discusses the development of the wheelchair and seating assessment service in New Zealand. It looks back on the early history of the service and the various factors that have impacted on the provision of services including socio-political and technological influences. Open ended interview questions were used to gather data from a service user and an occupational therapist in relation to their experiences of the wheelchair and seating service between 1969 and 2004. In addition, information was gathered from agencies such as the Crippled Children's Society. The move from client centredness to client directedness is explored.

Key words

Client centred, client directed, wheelchair and seating assessment

A brief history of the wheelchair industry in New Zealand

In 1893 the Thompson brothers established a company in Auckland which made and sold pushchairs and imported sewing machines. They began manufacturing wheelchairs in the early 1900s. Initially the wheelchairs were made from the same material used in the production of the prams i.e. cane, sea grass and forged steel. During the Second World War when supply of these materials was limited they used metal and timber. The metal and timber caused a significant increase in the weight of wheelchairs and eventually the wooden seats were replaced with slung upholstery. At the time Thompson's were the major manufacturer of wheelchairs, closely followed by Oxley Prams in Christchurch, Probert in Auckland and Steel Webb in Wellington. The Disabled Citizens Society and Thompson's were also importing wheelchairs from the United Kingdom.

In the late 1960s a company called McKellow & Hume began manufacturing the 'Chairmobile' in Christchurch. They were later to become known as Betstone Industries Ltd, combining the surnames of new owners William Bettle and Ron Stone. They soon established a reputation making wheelchairs with specially designed features such as the wheel hubs, wheels and footrests. A number of wheelchairs were made to order with individual specifications, for instance the smallest wheelchair they made had a 10-inch seat.

In 1972 the company was awarded the Design Mark in recognition of the high quality of their wheelchairs, and by 1977 they were exporting to Australia. Betstone's employed a number of people who used a wheelchair so it can be assumed they benefited from their employees personal knowledge, skill and experience.

In March of 1983 Betstone's was purchased by the Medic Corporation which was part of the Sir John McKenzie Trust. They continued manufacturing wheelchairs until March 1993 when the brand was sold to Thompson Rehab (Koster, 1993). The American multinational company Invacare then took the company over in the mid 1990s. They also bought Dynamics, a Christchurch based electronic company which made controls for power wheelchairs.

Hospital wheelchair and seating service

The Extramural Hospital concept in Auckland was initiated in 1961. This followed a suggestion from the Board of Health that community services should be a part of Hospital Board's improvement. Further development took place in 1968 when all the community services were brought together under one Medical Superintendent. It was a large and complex organisation that eventually included a centralised technical wheelchair service (Currie, 1978).

Early services

Russell Vickery (who was born with a congenital impairment) was a youngster when he received his first wheelchair. In those days there was no such thing as lightweight models in different colours or makes. People had to take what they were given and so Vickery received a very heavy New Zealand (NZ) made wheelchair from the NZ Crippled Children's Society (CCS). Vickery claims that when he was first assessed for a wheelchair people with disabilities were not involved in the decision making process. He states "in years gone by . …