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Freewheel, Fitness Tracker for Wheelchair Users: Tools You Can Use

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Over the weekend, I stumbled upon an article about a new fitness tracker being developed for disabled people, particularly wheelchair users like myself.  Being someone who always jokes about how pushing this 20+ pounds of metal for over 25 years has been a great cardio workout routine for me, I was eager to learn more about how Freewheel came to be, and to feature it this week for the “Tools You Can Use” series.

Freewheel:  Aiming to Bridge the Fitness Tracking Gap for Disabled Persons

The idea of Freewheel came from Tyler Hively, a content strategist who works at Chaotic Moon in Austin, Texas.  Tyler is a wheelchair user who noticed the gap within fitness tracker applications and programs for wheelchair users like himself – these technologies currently do not process the kind of exertion it takes to push a wheelchair, and are not able to translate such movements and power into tangible data for wheelchair users.  Basically, wheelchair users have no way of meshing together their pushing abilities and their health and fitness progress.  Tyler and his sister, who is an occupational therapist, brainstormed the idea of such an application, and brought it to the attention of those at Chaotic Moon.  And there, the idea of Freewheel was birthed.  

What makes Freewheel different is that it takes into consideration for wheelchair users what other fitness trackers ignore – Freewheel will consist of a device that attaches to the wheelchair that will have the ability to focus on muscles needed and are used to move the wheelchair about, and the terrain the “wheeler” (or pusher) is on, whether going uphill on a road, or travelling on a flat pathway.  

Freewheel will employ a host of sensors and meters to track speed, acceleration, distance, altitude, incline, and decline; as well as use Bluetooth to transmit aggregated data, and connect with devices that monitor heart rate.  All of these features provide crucial data that wheelchair users can collect and study in order to have a better understanding as to how pushing a wheelchair contributes to the health and wellness plan they have for themselves.  This data may also prove to be important to share with individuals involved in their healthcare, such as physicians, physical therapists, fitness trainers, etc., who may want to know how active they are as “wheelers” (or pushers).  As you can see, there is a host of possibilities accessing such data can have for wheelchair users that are essential to our overall health and wellness.  

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Why I Am Excited About Freewheel

What I love about this is that the idea came from an actually disabled person, and they were given the space to develop it into an actual physical product to market to a population that was overlooked.  Though there has been an increase in technological devices for disabled people, many of these technologies came from able-bodied individuals; rarely are such products developed for us, by us.  Tyler saw a gap, that I am sure he has experienced himself, and sought to do something about it.  Not only that, but the company he works for valued his vision, and allowed him to turn it into a reality, which says a great deal about the work culture and inclusiveness of that establishment.  

Though Freewheel is in the final stages of being developed, and will hopefully be launched by the end of the year, I wanted to bring it to the attention of my readers, especially those of us who are trying to take control of our health while wheeling the world we live in.  Being healthy, and finding ways to do so, as a wheelchair user can be challenging; I strongly believe that Freewheel has the capability to lessen the barriers in learning how pushing affects our health, and creates more understanding about how we move in our chairs.  

Final Thoughts

I reached out to those at Chaotic Moon over the weekend about my enthusiasm for what they have come up with, and asked if I could learn more about the product, and if they needed beta testers for it.  Wheelchair users come in different shapes, sizes, activity levels, and utilizes many wheelchair brands and models, and ensuring that any one of us can use this product is imperative.  There are two things I hope for:  that it is reasonably affordable because adaptive equipment tend to be expensive and out of reach for many of us to purchase out of pocket; and that it is fully accessible and accommodating for all wheelchair users; we are not a cookie-cutter group.  I will be watching for Freewheel’s official launch, and keep my readers updated if I receive a response from Chaotic Moon regarding my outreach to them.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of The Journal.ie/Shutterstock.)

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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