Several large furniture companies produce furnishings and equipment specifically for those who need assistance. Healthcare equipment includes wheelchairs, rollaway carts, lift chairs, and adjustable tables to help people with disabilities or those requiring hospitalization. Generally, healthcare equipment and furnishings are mass produced;
however, architects, designers, and artisans have also focused on designing limited-run, custom furnishings. When architect Alvar Aalto designed the Tuberculosis Sanatorium at Paimio, Finland, in 1933, he also designed the furnishings and casework for each of the patient rooms (Figure 2.28).
Today, many medical beds designed for intensive care units (ICUs) are air inflated, temperature controlled, movable, and adjustable in length, height, and width. Medical beds are designed as components of a complex system of devices that work together to ease body discomfort and save lives.
In the 1800s, wheelchairs were little more than rigid chairs on wheels that were pushed from behind (Figure 2.29). Early-twentieth-century wheelchairs had spoke wheels and wire-wound rubber tires. They were made of chrome-plated steel tubing and stiff vinyl upholstery. They were heavy, averaging between 45 and 50 lb in weight. Today, lightweight titanium wheelchairs are available for athletic competition or negotiating challenging urban spaces.
Many of today’s power wheelchairs utilize digital and computer technologies that help control special features such as automatic brakes and anti-tipping devices. Many of these wheelchairs take into account the need for back, neck, head, and leg support. Power wheelchairs can have electronic controllers to help users drive smoothly, brake easily, and allow independent movement with just the touch of a hand. Dean Kamen’s iBOT mobility system (1999) transcends traditional ideas about the wheelchair (Figure 2.30). Though it is designed to help
those with a disability, it is not considered a wheelchair. It is a device that can climb stairs, balance on two wheels, and, in four-wheel mode, can go on any terrain including sand, pebbles, and even an uncut curb. The iBOT enables users to enjoy the same eye height and arm-reach as non-wheelchair users.
Lift chairs, bath lifts, and toilet lifts assist those with a disability in getting into and out of a seated position (Figure 2.31). They offer support for people who are unable to sit and stand independently and allow caregivers to assist patients physically when tending to their needs. They address the difficulty many individuals have with limited lower back and hip movement. Healthcare furnishings in general and lift chairs or wheelchairs in particular raise issues of semantics that blur the boundary between furniture and equipment. This is happening in other markets as well, but it seems more pronounced in the health care industry due to the technical, mechanical, and material innovations that have occurred in the industry within the past decade.