Effect of tactile paving on steering of a Whill powerchair

  • Effect of tactile paving on steering of a Whill powerchair

    Posted by Don on June 21, 2023 at 10:42 am

    I have been visiting Japan regularly for 38 years but this May was my first trip as a disabled wheelchair user. My (Japanese) wife decided it was easier to rent a powerchair locally and she arranged 1 month rental of a Whill model C2, I found it robust, stable and easy to drive, with one important exception. Japan invented the yellow tactile paving with bumps and raised lines to assist the sight-impaired. These are at intersections and danger spots everywhere. It is impossible to avoid them. The bumps were just bumpy as were the lines if I approached them at a 90 degree angle. However if I drove in the direction of the lines the steering went crazy, the powerchair leapt to one side and I had no control. It was like being in an earthquake but potentially very dangerous if I was near a platform edge, close to a road or in a crowded place. I am a relative novice 77-year old powerchair user. My home country, the UK, has far fewer of these tactile tiles but unlike Japan the pavements are in a disgraceful uneven condition. Am I imagining this problem with a Whill in Japan? Are other types of powerchairs without 4-wheel drive and more standard tyres affected? Whill is a Japanese company. It is inconceivable it marketed this model without road-testing under Japanese conditions.

    Josh Grisdale replied 11 months, 4 weeks ago 4 Members · 7 Replies
  • 7 Replies
  • schroth-sensei

    June 21, 2023 at 11:45 am

    I feel like this chair could of been designed by a company with new innovations and investors in mind first, users second (my opinion, would love to discuss with the manufacturer). Possibly that Engineers made it but would of benefited with more input from people with disabilities. I’m not saying they are bad, but they may not have taken all the decades of lessons learned by leading wheelchair manufacturers who have received mountains of feedback. From the look of the Whill, it may be great for in-home use, short trips to the market, and generally flat areas (perhaps desired intention?). I had a chair that was good for this too (a 6-wheel setup with middle tires driving it, turned on a dime), but generally it had very little power to overcome bumps of just a few cm or even slopes that really shouldn’t be an issue. I believe it may be due to the same issue as the Whill, smaller motor (no doubt to keep weight and cost down) and smaller tires, which hamper the drivers desired power and control. Manual wheelchairs generally still have a similar issue, small thin front tires that are hard plastic that often can be stopped or redirected with even just a small rock (so many times in my youth this happened with my brother pushing me around), so it is something you end up anticipating when you use it long enough. Or, like me, I purposely got my new chair (Permobil F3) with a front wheel drive that are bigger tires than the back, so it’ll climb over things and pull the back tires over bumps with little issues. So Whill may be one of those good for situational use, I would definitely recommend a different chair for a mega-city like Tokyo.

    • Don

      June 22, 2023 at 12:09 am

      Thank you schroth-sensei and josh-san. Thoughtful points. At least I have time to research an alternative to a Whill as the London-Tokyo air fare has been so high since Ukraine that sadly am unlikely to return this year.

      One thing I did get right given my novice wheelchair status was our choice of Yokohama’s Minatomurai district as a base – wide uncrowded and well-kept pavements and dropped curbs, easy access to several stations, all intersections traffic-light controlled, huge choice of step-free shops and restaurants in many department stores and malls, plus traffic-free level access along coast as far as Chinatown and Motomachi. OK much is just high-rise concrete but I have seen the tourist stuff before..

      Am a member of the Japan Railway Society and I plan to pen a piece for its journal Bullet-In on accessibility in Japan, with special reference of course to trains. It took patience and Japanese language skills to book a wheelchair space but the time and trouble JR East and JR Hokkaido staff took to help was amazing (ditto JAL). Our ‘accessible” monthly mansion room and two hotels we used were another matter a couple of grab bars in bathroom was about it. . In one, our ‘universal’ room had four beds but not a single chair I could use

    • Josh Grisdale

      June 22, 2023 at 9:36 am

      That sounds like a great article! Please share it with the group when it is published. 🙂 Actually, if you are interested in writing about your experience – particularly with rail – it would make for a very useful blog post on Accessible Japan. Let me know if you would be interested!

      Also, we have a train group on tabifolk, Riding the Rails. I would love some help running it. (By the way, I run both Accessible Japan and tabifolk.)

    • Don

      June 23, 2023 at 10:36 pm

      Josh. Happy to email article to anybody interested in it but Bullet-In is a subscription journal so I better not post it on open page. Have hospital appointments coming up so there will be a few weeks delay before article ready.

      I scanned your ‘riding the rail’ pages. Very interesting. Have no experience of using any UK train as a wheelchair user. Our local rail company, Southern, requires 24 hours notice of exact outbound and inbound train you will be using to obtain assistance, which is hardly practical. Cancellations, endless strikes and elevators out of order just adds to the difficulties. Even fit, abled-bodied people have problems getting on and off Southern trains at certain stations due to the vintage nature of the network. Indeed, at Clapham Junction – billed as the UK’s busiest station – one platform is permanently out of use due to the huge drop/gap from train to platform.

    • Josh Grisdale

      June 25, 2023 at 11:08 am

      Understood. Don’t want to get you in trouble 😅 maybe you can give a short synopsis in a new post.

      Yikes sounds like it would be difficult to get around without planning 😕

  • Josh Grisdale

    June 21, 2023 at 12:24 pm

    You would think! But you would be surprised…

    My (uneducated) guess is that they have some sort of “auto-assist” that senses the resistance of the bump and “helps” you over it. But in this case it launches you to the other side of the tactile blocks – very dangerous as you mentioned!

    They really should warn people about this, and if there is an option to turn it off they should tell you how.

    Thank you for the warning!

  • Joan Pahisa

    June 22, 2023 at 3:23 am

    Hi Don, as schroth-sensei points, it happens the same with most manual wheelchairs, as front casters are small and can be redirected by minor bumps. With experience, you learn to position yourself in the sidewalk to minimize interaction with tactile pavement and other kind of bumps, but the more crowded the street is the more difficult it is.

    On station platforms, if you can’t avoid getting close to the edge (always leave a minimum margin of 20-30cm on a light wheelchair), going really slow usually reduces the unexpected turns a lot and also gives you the time to redirect things if the wheelchair changes direction. I think it is the only safe solution.

    It is true that in Japan, though, tactile pavement is specially rough and bumpy for wheelchair users. I’ve been on other cities where roughness was similar, but only on curb cuts leading to zebra crossings.

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