The Year of the Veteran is an appropriate time to welcome home the first successful electric wheelchair, invented by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) alumnus George Klein. The chair, designed to assist veterans who were injured in the Second World War, has helped disabled people around the world regain independence.
Fifty years ago the Government of Canada presented the United States Veterans Administration with the prototype of the first working electric wheelchair for quadriplegic patients. This gesture was part of Canada's wider efforts to share the invention with other countries and to help disabled patients around the world achieve greater independence.
Before this time, manual wheelchairs were not considered to be assistive devices for individuals. A very limited number of wheelchairs were available to medical personnel for moving patients from one part of a ward to another, often a hospital might have a handful of chairs to serve as many as a hundred patients. A paraplegic war veteran with powerful connections and founder of the CPA, John Counsell, promoted broader use of newer, lighter, more flexible wheelchairs and actively lobbied the Government of Canada. His efforts led to Canada being the first country to make a mass purchase of manual wheelchairs to help veterans resume more active lives. Although these chairs helped paraplegic veterans and were easier to use than their predecessors, the quadriplegic patients were still without means to move around independently.
That's when NRC's inventive staff came onto the scene. NRC's George Klein is credited with dreaming up many of the key features and overall design for the motorized wheelchair. Previous attempts by other individuals and organizations had failed to result in safe or dependable solutions. The late Dr. Klein, together with his colleagues such as Robert Owens of Brockville, Ontario, participated in what is now recognized as a first of its kind collaboration between scientists, engineers, patients and doctors. This innovative team's efforts resulted not only in the invention of this motorized wheelchair, but their initiative has also been cited as perhaps one of the world's first examples of "rehabilitation engineering". During this important project, patients were true collaborators. They advised the designers about what they wanted and needed, they provided equipment as well as described the challenges that they faced.
Widely considered one of the greatest artifacts in the history of Canadian science, engineering and invention, the chair received international acclaim for its innovative controls, ease of operation, flexible drive system, and dependability. It is a true Canadian success story and a shining example of how science and technology can improve the lives of individuals globally.
information gathered from http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/highlights/2005/0510klein_e.html