Apparently the Universe hates me.
One of the things I’ve noticed in life is that people who manufacture items don’t actually test them. Or at least they don’t test them in the real world using the people they expect to purchase said products. For example, the top of the steering wheel on my new van falls right between a portion of the instrument cluster and my eyes. It blocks the turn signal and headlight high beam indicators, and most of the speedometer (the section between 20 mph and 90 mph). Three things it’s nice to be able to see while you drive. And it’s not just because I’m tall, either. My wife is shorter than I am, but she has the same issues with the instrument cluster. And there’s not enough adjustment in the steering wheel to move it out of that area of the dashboard. So I wind up using cruise control a lot more than I used to, and flicking my high beams at night a lot to see what setting they’re on. Why? Because the one thing that is visible is an indicator that’s supposed to tell me the parking lights are on — except it looks just like a high beam indicator. There are both low tire and flat tire flashing indicators. And, of course, they’re hidden by the steering wheel as well. If it wasn’t for the “ding” when something goes wrong, I’d never know about it until it was too late. As it is, whenever I hear that sound I start checking everything from the door locks to the hidden part of the dashboard to my seat belt to see what it is the van’s trying to warn me about. To the other drivers on the road, I must look like I’m having a fit.
Of course, I notice this failing most often when it comes to products designed to help the handicapped. Because I can no longer manhandle my 40-pound van ramp, and because it is too wide to properly fit in my new van, I decided to break my tight-fisted (Scotch) tendencies and buy a new, lighter, easier-to-handle ramp. Besides the weight and the width, I can’t put the ramp into the van by sliding it in because it’s longer than the van is wide, so I have to lift it up and wiggle it around to get it to fit lengthwise behind the front passenger seat. This is my old ramp, sturdy but bulky.
I needed something light and easy to use because there’s no such thing as using the ramp just once. If I want to go somewhere, I have to install the ramp to put the chair in the van. Then I put the ramp back in the van so I can have it with me when I get wherever I’m going. When I get there, I repeat the double procedure to get the chair out of the van. Then to go home I repeat the procedure yet again to put the chair back into the van, only to do it one more time when I get home. (Now do you see why I want a Kenguru?) So I really wanted something light and easy to handle.
However, there is a limit on how light they can make a ramp that designed to handle a powered wheelchair. My chair sitting on the ground without me in it weighs over 250 pounds (a lot of that is batteries). But I managed to find one ramp that fit all my requirements. Instead of only folding once, like my old one, to make it narrower, it also folds again, to make it shorter. The extra hinges, etc. actually make the ramp heavier than my old one, but the two sides come apart, making each piece lighter and easier to handle. And, it was the only ramp I could find that would fit the doors on my new van. It looked perfect, so I ordered it.
Even though each half of the ramp only weighs 25 pounds, they shipped it in one container. Because UPS can never find my home (it’s on a cul-de-sac), I use a storefront mail-drop service for my shipping address. When the ramp arrived I had a real fun time getting this huge, 50-pound cardboard box into the back of my van along with my wheelchair and old ramp, but somehow I managed, and thanked heaven that I wouldn’t have to do that ever again, once I got it home.
Before I even went into the house, I unboxed the new ramp. And immediately spotted a problem. You see, the old ramp (the one that folded in half lengthwise) folded so that both “top” surfaces faced each other. That’s important because when you use the ramp, you place one end of the folded ramp on the floor of the van, and the other end on the ground. That can be done while removing said ramp from the van. And once you’ve done that, you can just flip the ramp open so that it can be used. Like so:
The ramp in the following picture looks like it folds in the same direction my old ramp does — front to front. And it does. But that’s not the first fold you have to deal with. The first fold is the fold that makes the ramp shorter/longer. Unless you’ve got a completely empty van, the only way to get the first fold open is to put the ramp on the ground. Then you unfold it and lift it up to the van floor to install.
You’ll notice that this woman in this picture has left her Zippymobile and walked around in order set up the ramp. Oh, and BTW, you have to repeat the procedure to uninstall the ramps as well. This is true whether or not you’ve taken the two halves apart for ease of handling. That probably doesn’t sound like much to you, does it? Ask a friend in a wheelchair what they think about it. Doing things on the ground is not something you want to try to do while sitting in a chair. Gravity tends to win that particular fight and when you try to get back into the chair, it continues to fight you. But it’s even more of a hassle when the chair you need is sitting in the van, waiting on you to get the ramp installed before you can use it. Thank goodness I can still get around on crutches when I have to.
If this ramp, supposedly designed, manufactured, and sold to make life easier for people in wheelchairs, had been tested by even one wheelchair-bound person, they would have reversed the hinges. But, instead, I’ll just have to figure out how to make it work because it’s the only one made that will meet my other needs. Which is why manufacturers don’t bother “real world” testing their products. They know we don’t really have a choice. Well, that and the fact is, they just don’t care.