September 18, 2014

Rebuilding The Wheelchair: Reinventing Wheels

If you could custom-build a new wheelchair from scratch, what would it look like?

It’s something we’ve been pondering as we look back at the stylish wheelchairs, accessories and parts we’ve covered over the years. We want to know what the perfect wheelchair looks like in 2014 and how it works. So, in the next couple of weeks we’re going to look into what parts we’d use to assemble the best possible wheelchair.

Our basic question is this: If you could put together your ideal chair, using only parts that are currently or very nearly available, what would you use?

A sensible place to start this series is with the wheels – start from the ground up, as it were – and we’re not talking about changing the spoke design or buying spoke guards here – we’re thinking much bigger than that. We’ve highlighted a few of the most innovative and stylish wheelchair wheels around. Which would you want on your perfect wheelchair?

Comfort – SoftWheel

The best option for reducing the constant impact of bumps and knocks which are a pain even in the more accessible of surroundings, the SoftWheel is an innovative shock absorbing suspension system. Normal spokes are removed and replaced with three compression cylinders, incorporating suspension into the structure of the wheel itself. This means that, when the wheelchair moves over an obstacle, the chair’s hub actually moves position to absorb the impact, with the rest of the chair essentially floating. It’s rather ingenious.

SoftWheel CEO Daniel Barel says that in traditional wheelchair designs, over 30% of the energy put into going forward is lost because of the lack of suspension, which creates uncomfortable rides and tired users. The SoftWheel greatly improves on this and the inventors attest that even taking on stairs can be done as comfortably as going up or down a ramp in most wheelchairs. They plan to start selling their wheelchair wheels in Q4 2014 with pricing in the ballpark of $2,000 per pair.



Portability - Morph Folding Wheels 

These are the best thing on the market in terms of portability – for lack of a better word. Being easily removable and foldable, Morph wheels are ideal for storing, particularly for when driving. These are the first ever foldable wheelchair wheels and after being disconnected from the wheelchair frame, each wheel folds to approximately half its open size for easier transport and storage. Originally designed to work for bicycles, designer Duncan Fitzsimons was told by many wheelchair users that these could be a valuable asset for them. After working with wheelchair users to tweak the design the wheels are now available for £696.

Morph Folding Wheels

Morph Folding Wheels

Energy Efficiency - Rowheels

Designed to minimize the factors which contribute to shoulder and wrist injury, Rowheels pretty much work in the reverse way to any other wheelchair wheel (or, indeed, in reverse to basic logic!). It may seem counter intuitive but the Rowheels device allows you to pull backwards to go forwards and push forwards to go backwards. Don’t ask us how the technology in the hub works, but it allows you to use a motion based on the rowing motion and is designed to take advantage of the larger and more capable muscles used when rowing.

They provide a more energy efficient and healthier way to get around, as this motion apparently leads to a reduced likelihood of repetitive strain or other types of injury. The pulling motion works in conjunction with a gear system is designed such that for every handrim revolution, the wheel turns 1.3 times more, meaning that less effort is required to get around. They look great and for our readers in the US they may be covered by your insurance, however, they don’t seem to be available in the UK quite yet.



Extra Power - E-Motion Power Assistance

The E-Motion power assistance device is an intuitive design that looks quite similar to Rowheels, but rather than changing the standard motions, it supercharges normal manual wheelchair propulsion by up to 80%. The electric hub wheels minimise the exertion required to push the chair along – you put in roughly one fifth of the effort and the E-Motion does the rest. Here’s a video of the system in action which should make this all clearer.

The speed achieved depends on the strength of the propelling movement, as is the case with manual wheelchairs. E-Motion assists the propelling movement up to 6 km per hour (3.7 mph) with a 15km range. There is also a rollback delay feature which prevents the chair rolling down hill. The E-Motion is an excellent idea and very intuitive and costs about £3,995.

E-Motion Power System

E-Motion Power System

So, there’s our selection of advanced manual wheelchair wheels. Which wheels would you use to start 2014′s perfect wheelchair, or would you use something else?

Let us know what you think and if you happen to know any truly innovative and/or extremely stylish wheels then let us know and we can add them!

Conservatorium Hotel

September 18, 2014

Conservatorium – An Accessible Design Hotel In Amsterdam’s Museum District

Conservatorium is a gorgeous five star hotel ideally located in central Amsterdam. Situated on Museumplein the hotel is perfect for visiting the city’s main museums, including the Van Gogh Museum and the recently reopened Rijksmuseum as well as glamorous shopping streets like P.C Hooftstraat and Van Baerlestraat.

The hotel is a member of Design Hotels where it is described as “the city’s most unique and fashionable hotel”. Designed by Piero Lissoni, the hotel has a very modern feel, with lots of clean lines and the occasional splash of colour. This combines with the high ceilings of the nineteenth century Neo-Gothic architecture to create an stunning ambience. Rodney Bolt of The Telegraph described Conservatorium as “a stylish design explosion in a 19th-century bank building”.

Everybody who stays at Conservatorium is very well looked after. Each guest is allocated a ‘personal host’ who acts as their own concierge. This should be particularly helpful for less able guests.


19th Century Neo-Gothic Building

The access and facilities for less able guests sound very good too. In fact, they have been kind enough to provide us with extra information on the hotel’s accessibility – some of which is much more specific than could be worked out with the naked eye. The entrance is step free and at 95cm wide, is easily wide enough for average wheelchairs (75cm width). Inside, wherever there are steps there is an alternative route (for instance, to get to the public toilets, which are upstairs, there is a lift available) and the flooring is a combination of tiles and carpet. There are two adapted toilets for disabled guests in public areas – these are 15 metres from the main area, with natural stone floor, two grab rails and a sink at wheelchair height (they do not, however, have a floor to ceiling mirror).

Conservatorium has two bedrooms which are equipped for less able guests. These have been very well designed for wheelchair users, with wardrobes, mirrors. plugs and entry key card system at a lowered height. The bathroom has a wheel in shower, with shower seat and grab rails and the sink is at 82cm height. It basically has all the adapted facilities one would expect.

Conservatorium combines beautiful design with a good level of accessibility. We’re going to give the hotel a provisional 2.5 BBS Ticks with a good chance of being pushed up to a 3 when we’ve audited it.


Conservatorium Hotel


19th Century Neo-Gothic Building

Ember Yard

September 17, 2014

Ember Yard – London’s Second Best Restaurant But No Disabled Toilet

Ember Yard is a seriously sophisticated tapas bar in an off the beaten track part of Soho (in as far as it’s ever possible to get off the beaten track a stones throw away from Oxford Street). The restaurant comes from the same people who brought London DehesaSalt Yard and Opera Tavern and serves delicious small Italian-Iberian dishes cooked over smoky coals.

Time Out recently named Ember Yard as the second best restaurant in London – behind only the Chiltern Firehouse which we reviewed last month (3 BBS Ticks) - so it’s a must visit from a style perspective. They described the restaurant as “stunning but little known” which one would assume will not be the case for long now they’ve given it such a high rating in London’s most high profile review mag.

The Guardian’s reviewer was similarly impressed, not just by the food but also by the restaurant’s style, saying that “it looks wonderful, and manages to avoid every Soho boîte cliche, with not a bare brick or filament lightbulb in sight” and adding that the menu is “corset-burstingly swoonworthy”.  Looking at dishes such as “Steamed and chargrilled octopus with peperonata and mojo verde” we’d have to agree. The food is brilliant and at a price of £35-40 per head, including wine and service, it’s not bad value either.

There will however be a problem for many less able visitors since the Ember Yard’s toilets are all downstairs from the entrance and none of them have been adapted for disabled users (it may be possible to use nearby facilities, but this is hardly convenient). On a more positive note they do have a portable ramp which can be put in place for anyone who needs it when entering the building as there is one large step at the entrance. The ground floor is accessible but the downstairs level is not.

Ember Yard is not completely accessible and the lack of an adapted toilet is problematic, but it may be manageable for many people and the high recommendation from Londoners earns it a provisional 1.5 BBS Ticks. Fully marks for style but less so on facilities and access.

Big open space with ramps throughout

September 16, 2014

Baltic – Good Access, Central European Food and Style

Baltic is the London restaurant to head to if you’re keen to sample Polish and central European food.

In their spacious and contemporary Southwark restaurant, Jan Woroniecki’s team cook up a variety of Baltic dishes from buckwheat blinis to rabbit braised in a fragrant broth. The restaurant is a long lasting London favourite and was recently included in Time Out’s top 100 restaurants in the mid-range price category. They say that “for Polish/central European classics, sometimes touched with the modernity that Woroniecki brings to these underrated cuisines, it has few peers in London”. They also advise that, as the wine is not the best, it’s better to opt for something from their 60 variety long vodka list. That’s advice we don’t mind taking!

The restaurant is a wide open space with lots of air and light. Some of the tables may be a little closely packed, making it a bit of a squeeze for wheelchair users but generally speaking the accessibility here is very good. It is, as we just said, an large open space, where things can be moved about and the entire floor plan is totally step free. From the entrance, past the bar and through to the main dining area there is a smooth ramped pathway. There is also an adapted toilet for less able customers.

Baltic is a highly rated, highly accessible venue with quality European food and an excellent location for the South Bank and other nearby theatres (Theatre/Lunch menus 2 courses – £16.50, 3 courses -£19.50). We’d recommend Baltic as somewhere for something a little a bit different and give them a provisional 2.5 BBS Ticks.

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September 12, 2014

Weekly Wrap – Endorsement From a Peer of the Realm & A New Wine Bar Trend

You may have seen on our Facebook Page that we met Lord Livingston, Minister of State For Trade & Investment, at Sesame Lifts . They produce those lovely lifts that appear from disappearing stairs. The video below shows a lift for a residential Listed Building in Edinburgh but I digress, the meeting was a surprising one as the ‘Lord’ thought BBS was great idea and he had read all about us! We are now being cheeky and asking him to recommend a BBS Pictorial Access Description for the Houses of Parliament….

Lord Ian Livingston Listening To The Pitch For a PAD at Houses of Parliament....Maybe I Should Have More Reserved??

Lord Ian Livingston Listening To The Pitch For a PAD at Houses of Parliament….Notice the Regulation BBS Blue Top

We also went to Terroirs off The Strand. They’re part of the group that owns Brawn (see our review here), a good accessible find in Columbia Market.  Terroirs is a great wine bar, something of a new/revived trend from the 80′s as more and more seem to be opening in and around London which are a change from the Gastro Pub as the emphasis is on the quality and variety of wines. At Terroir many of the wines come straight from the growers and we let our waitress choose our white wine. When it arrived it was cloudy but apparently that’s how it is without the ‘added chemicals’ resident in many wines. We took her word for it and it was a delicious flavour.

The extra positive is I had no hangover in the morning. The food was good and consisted of charcuterie and pate which was more than enough as the portions were very generous – a good taste of France. Wheelchair access is only on the street level as all the toilets and the bar are down 4 stairs, with a bannister. Obviously there’s no disabled toilet. Nevertheless we give them 2 BBS Ticks as it had plenty of style and the wine & food were superb in  simple way.

erroirs Upstairs, Accessible From Street , No Disabled Toilet But Macdonalds is Nearby! Worth A Visit as Wine & Food Superb

Upstairs at Terroirs, Accessible From Street , No Disabled Toilet But Macdonald’s is Nearby! Worth A Visit as Wine & Food Superb

In a similar vein we went to Vinoteca in Chiswick which is a ‘cool and cosy neighbourhood gem’. There was a big step to get over at the entrance but after that everything is flat and there’s a good spacious disabled toilet. It’s in the dining room but it’s a small venue and at least they’ve bothered! There is a bar area but it’s inaccessible as it’s down 3 steps. The food again was very good without being over pretentious and the wines were very interesting and different from the usual Chablis, Gavi and Pinot Grigio. They again support small growers so the choice was left to the staff as we didn’t know what to choose from the list – never heard of most of them. Luckily they really know their stuff and made choices to suit three very different palates.

Vinoteca Chiswick, a Cosy Space But still Managed To Accomodate a Spacious Disabled Toilet, Bravo!!!

Vinoteca Chiswick, a Cosy Space But still Managed To Accommodate a Spacious Disabled Toilet, Bravo!!!

They get 2.5 BBS Ticks as the wines were excellent and although access wasn’t perfect I always have to applaud a small business that spends money on a disabled toilet in a small space. Definitely going back.

See you in a couple of weeks as off to explore Mykonos – an adventure as not many places appear to accommodate a wheelchair………I’ll let you know.