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Customized Seating, A Dream Come True

Last month, I was asked if I would be a ‘model’ for a custom seating session at the 30th International Seating Symposium held in Vancouver, BC. I replied yes without a moment‘s hesitation and I am glad I did.

The international symposium offered a number of lectures and demonstrations presenting current and future developments in the areas of seating, positioning and mobility for the disabled. The session for which I modeled was titled “I’m Not Straight, So Please Don’t Make Me… Custom Seating Do’s and Don’ts”. The session was lead by Sheila Buck, an occupational therapist, speaker and author specializing in seating and mobility.

Pressure sores have been the bane of my existence—their appearance always causing immense frustration, materializing at most awkward times, and forever interfering with my life! No matter the number of skin grafts, the preventative measures or off-the shelf cushions, those ugly ulcers would mysteriously develop on my right buttock. Doctors always recommended staying off my rear end. Do you know how long an open wound takes to heal on an area of skin that has endured previous incursions? I would have had to spend years lying down!

The advent of the ‘customized cushion’ was my singular liberation from these miseries.  Once assessed, mapped, measured and ordered, the day that cushion arrived was the first day of freedom from that overriding burden of anxiety and it has lasted to this day.

Sheila’s thought-provoking introduction covered topics such as the choosing “off-the-shelf’ or customized seating, assessing a client’s seating requirements as well as techniques and measurements that can be used when creating contoured seating. She then asked me to come up front for a real-life demonstration for the audience of therapists and other medical practitioners.

Custom chair technology from PRM Rehab

Custom chair technology from PRM Rehab

In front of us was a molding frame supporting 2 bean bags not unlike a new-age easy chair. Sheila said that she would be molding this cushion to customize the shape to support my body. The bean bags were covered with a 4 way stretch pliable material marked with repeating pattern, filled with small bean-like plastic pellets and was attached to a vacuum. She explained that as she molded the cushion, she would use the vacuum to extract air from the bean bag to compact the pellets or blow air in to loosen them. She also mentioned that when the mold was finished, the company manufacturing the cushion would take photographs of the molded bag using the 3D image to design a mold to achieve the desired shape to support the client’s body.

Before I transferred to this molding chair, she asked the audience to help identify my seating issues. (It didn’t take much prompting to come up with a list.) Once I was comfortably seated in the chair, she then began kneading and forming the cushion, pressing on my shoulders, hips and thighs, and pushing the pellets in the molding bag to the left and right to form the shape that best supported my body the way it wanted to while addressing my posture issues. As I recall it was an iterative process, first forming the basic shape, assessing the effect, and returning to provide the additional off-loading and additional reinforcement my body required. As she did this my body slowly started to relax to use the support the cushion provided.

At the end of the demonstration, I wanted to take the cushion mold home with me! It was sooo comfortable! I would have used in on my next airplane flight. (I am not looking forward to sitting in a seat designed for a normal able-bodied person!) But even more important was the fact that those in the audience left with an awareness of the knowledge and expertise required to provide customized seating for suitable clients.

For more information on the seating technology, visit PRM Rehab.

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