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Here’s one for the increasing market for power wheelchairs and scooters created by the aging baby boomer generation. All of these units use some type of joystick controller. Almost all use one of roughly 3 makes of controller unit. The rubber covers on these joysticks do wear off or split. They can be expensive to replace, both in parts and labor. Also, certain disabilities affect hand-function in such a way that makes use of small joysticks difficult. I’ve seen many CF patients using hollowed-out tennis and rubber-exercise balls inserted in the stick for proper grip. I believe this is, as of yet, a truly untapped market.

PRODUCT: How about a selection of seasonal and trendy joystick covers (or toys, if you will). These can be toys/trinkets such as tennis and golf balls, plush miniature animal toys for children, Christmas ornaments, or even fake shrunken-heads for Halloween. There is a parallel to this market and product: computer mouse covers. These are kitsch items for the technology market that take hundreds of forms. And, they still sell well.

REQUIREMENTS: Any product adapted for use must be small and comfortable enough for proper long-term hand grip. Also, it must be lightweight. Heavy items cause abnormal movement in chair when released, and can create problems with electronic centering systems of the controllers. The exteriors of items can be flexible, but must be sturdy enough for proper control. This will require some testing for rigidity on softer products (like plush toys) to find proper materials. Too soft, and fine control would be impossible.

There are 2 ways to adapt item for wheelchair use: ad nipple replacement, or a push-on nipple cover. The replacement version would require integration of a 1/2″ long aluminum collet with set screw into item. This would allow attachment to steel post that is actually the joystick. I believe there aren’t any models that use posts over 3/8″ diameter, so 3/8″ collet should be fine. The push on version would slip over existing rubber nipple. This would require a 1/2″ hole in bottom of items, and some internal tension that would keep item in place. Much testing would be required to find a universally acceptable design.

HISTORY: My mom is in a power chair. Many years ago, the exterior of the joystick began to wear out. She didn’t simply want to replace the rubber exterior. She wanted something ‘different.’ I went into my supply of antique door knobs, and threw one on. Voila! See pic above. I wouldn’t recommend doing this, though. Old glass knobs are unbelievably heavy, making the chair extremely touchy to control. The centering spring inside the joystick simply wasn’t made to control that kind of weight. She loves it so much, she refuses to let me change it- regardless of the problems. After receiving so many compliments and questions about it, I can see her point. I guess could upgrade the spring, somehow. But, it would be easier to change the knob with a modern Lucite version. These are much lighter.

MARKETING: Don’t know what to call them, but I’d stay away from ‘Joy-Toys,’ ‘Knob-Fobs,’ and ‘nipple-buddies.’

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