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Expo offers great deals on wheels
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08:49, September 18, 2008

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When it comes to buying a new wheelchair, it is all about getting the one that suits your needs, 50-year-old Zhou Ping, said last week at the 2008 Care & Rehabilitation Expo China in Beijing.

"For me, a wheelchair is more than just something to get around in, it's like a part of my body," the former wheelchair basketball player said.

After much deliberation at the show, which ran for three days until Sunday at the Beijing International Exhibition Center, Zhou decided on a manual model from a Hong Kong manufacturer, disregarding the salesman's efforts to get him to buy a more expensive, electric-powered one.

"Price is not the issue for me," he said.

"I'm more concerned about convenience and style."

While electric wheelchairs are less work and look modern, the manual one Zhou chose is lighter and easier to maneuver, he said.

Zhou has suffered from polio since the age of 3, and as a result has always had great difficulty walking.

As a child, he said he would struggle to school with the aid of two canes, but was constantly mocked by his classmates.

It was not until 1984 that he got his first wheelchair.

"It was very heavy and made of iron," he said.

A year later, however, he got a much better model, when he joined a Beijing wheelchair basketball team.

"It was a streamlined sports chair, made of some lightweight material but with a fixed shape and angled wheels to aid stability when making sharp turns," he said.

After years of training, Zhang said his upper body and arm strength developed enormously, which further increased his speed and agility on the basketball court.

"But a sporty wheelchair is no good for everyday use," he said.

He said he soon realized he needed different chairs for the different aspects of his life.

Zhou's latest purchase is designed for use when he is traveling. He has three others - one for indoors, one for outdoors and one for basketball.

"I had to negotiate quite a lot over my fourth chair, as I needed them to remodel it for me," he said.

It had to weigh no more than 11 kg, so he could lift it with one hand, he said.

"Also, it has to be easy to fold - so I can put it in my car - and easy to reassemble."

Zhu Tuling, one of the founders of the China Disabled Persons Assistive Devices Center, said wheelchair design has come a long way over the years.

The first locally made chairs began to appear toward the end of the 1980s, but the turning point came in 1991, when the government launched a program of developing assistive devices for disabled people, he said.

Since then, and as the market has opened up to foreign manufacturers, disabled people have had far more choice, he said.

"Today's market is headed by models from America, Japan and Germany," he said.

Furthermore, Cheng Kai, vice-president of the China Disabled Persons' Federation, told China Daily yesterday that the most significant change to have occurred is that more and more disabled people now realize that having a decent wheelchair can change their lives.

"Having the right chair is like having the right clothes," he said.

Source: China Daily

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