Wheelchair aid increases independence

SALLY KIDSON
Last updated 13:58 16/01/2014
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

MORE MOBILE: Morice Hennessy, left, and Greg Ewing of abiliQuip with the wheelchair loading device Mr Hennessy uses with his car.

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A Nelson man's robotic device to help him load his wheelchair into his car is turning heads in the city.

Morice Hennessy is the only person in the Nelson region to use a wheelchair Abi-Loader, a boot to car door wheelchair delivery system.

Morice, who was left a paraplegic after a tractor accident in Wakefield 38 years ago, says the Abi-Loader has increased his independence. He had the device fitted to his car a year ago and says it has made a massive difference.

Previously he had to collapse his chair and lift it into the back seat. "Years of lifting my wheelchair frame and wheels by reaching back over on to the back seat have compounded the stress on a shoulder injury".

The Abi-Loader arm comes out of the boot of his car, picks up the chair and loads it into the boot, which shuts itself all by the flick of a switch. The whole process takes about a minute.

When he wants to get out of the car, his wheelchair is delivered within arms reach outside his car door.

"It is so convenient and effortless for storing my wheelchair in the vehicle I wish I had one years ago." The time and effort required meant he use to think twice about stopping off somewhere once he was in his car, but not now.

"It's opened up a complete new level as far as mobility goes." Doctors told Morice his shoulder will cause concern in years to come. He has had physio to easy the pain and surgery had been considered but the Abi-Loader that ACC paid for has taken the pressure off his shoulder.

Morice has always been employed and is currently working for Fairfax Media.

Nelson man Greg Ewing is the managing director of Abiliquip, a Christchurch-based firm which makes the wheelchair delivery systems. He shifted to Nelson after his wife Cathy Ewing was employed as principal at Nelson College for Girls.

The Abi-Loaders have been manufactured for about four years, and are made from raw materials in New Zealand from his company's design. It takes about a week to make and install each Abi-Loader at a cost close to $20,000.

Greg says one of the system's advantage was that it could be fitted to most station wagons, and other vehicles that had a good boot size. By comparison, to set up vans for some wheelchair users could cost between $100,000 to $200,000.

"For those that can use it it is a much cheaper option than a van and more practical."

The devices are found around New Zealand, exported to Australia, the UK and US and they are working on expanding into South America and Europe.

Greg says another factor that appealed was that once it was stored away their was no visible sign that the car driver had a disability.

It also reduced the strain on shoulders. It is only suitable for people that were able to transfer themselves in and out of their car.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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