In this Off the Shelf Solutions post, we’ll walk you through how we created a drink holder for Alexa’s wheelchair with some simple materials.. and made it much easier for her to stay hydrated!
Early on, we experienced some difficulty with Alexa drinking from a glass or cup. As Alexa grew it became even more challenging to hold her and have her drink from a cup or glass. A straw for drinking was the first part of the solution. Alexa could stay in her stroller, corner seat or car seat and she could drink via a straw, as long as someone was present to hold the glass/cup/bottle. When Alexa started using a power wheelchair (Quickee P500), we experimented with the various drink holding devices that were available. While some were more successful than others, the unsolved problem was how to attach the drink holder to the wheelchair. Even when we could get something to work, when Alexa was finished drinking, the empty drink container and the holding assembly remained in her face.
When Alexa grew into her next power wheelchair (Permobil) we discovered that we could mount a ‘pin’ on the track system that was available for thigh side bolsters. This ‘king pin’ (couldn’t help it…) became the solution to mounting a drink holder made out of PVC that could pivot out of Alexa’s way when no longer needed. Alexa could drink at her pleasure and go about her business when finished. When a family member, or whomever, would notice she was finished drinking, we would remove the drink holder from the pin and hang it on the back of her chair for later. (Other ‘pin’ attachments will be described later).
Originally, as PVC is quite cheap and available, we were thinking that the PVC would serve as a template to use and make something later on out of material more durable like copper. However, we discovered that PVC was up to the task. It also allowed us to experiment with different designs at very low cost. It can be washed as necessary and is kind of fun to decorate. It was also discovered that by using PVC, if a collision with a wall or obstacle occurred (it happens), the PVC would break and not the wheelchair and/or pin. It was usually easy to repair in the field with duct tape until a replacement could be arranged (we’ve learned to make more than one at a time for just this reason).
Equipment and supplies used
Tools we used: hack saw, sand paper, file, drill, needle nose pliers, screw drivers, allen key set
Supplies we used: ¾ ID PVC, 90 degree and/or 45 degree elbows, PVC adhesive, bicycle bottle holder (lots of options here… we prefer ones with straps), Velcro, copper pipe or aluminum rod, (Gorilla) glue, bendy straws, 1/8 inch bolts approx. 1/14 inches long with nuts and washers, rubbing alcohol
Permobil specific: thigh bolster mount (check with vendor or local UCP for ‘old ones’ that might be available)
Tube frame (Invacare, Quantum) specific: car engine wire management holder (found on-line was easiest), 4-6” long ½ OD copper pipe
We have learned, as Alexa progressed through 5 power wheelchairs over the years, that it all starts with getting a ‘pin’ mounted to the wheelchair. This mount should be somewhat adjustable so you find the ‘sweet spot’ as you construct the PVC drink holder to fit the users range of motion.
With Alexa’s Permobil, we used the rail along the bottom of the seat that is typically used for thigh side bolsters. Using some ½ “aluminum rod that we cut approximately 6” for the ‘pin’, we filed a square end to fit an older style thigh bolster attachment. I am guessing that you could use the thigh bolster assembly of the newer style chairs and just remove the thigh bolster. The pin might be a smaller diameter than practical, but you could slip a 6” piece of ½ copper pipe or PVC (sleeve) over it to provide a better fit for the drink holder. I would think that any ‘slop’ between the factory pin and the sleeve would give the firmness/stability for the PVC.
After you have a stable mount, you will have to determine where the user needs the glass/cup to be and then cut and assemble your PVC pieces accordingly. This is where you should expect to have to make more than one attempt at working out the length of the various pieces of PVC as well as the number and type of elbows you will need. We recommend that you cut the PVC outside your living area as the saw ‘chips’ will be all over the place. Even though Alexa has used 5 Permobils over the years, each one is just a little different with arm rests, seat backs, controllers, etc. The trick is to have the drink container where the user can reach it and have enough bends to clear the arm rest and seat when being pivoted out of the way. If the mount can be adjustable front to back, this gives you one more opportunity to adjust the assembly so the drink is precisely where the user wants it.
The final step is to attach the bicycle drink holder to the PVC. We drilled the PVC and used nuts, washers and bolts to attach. As you dry assemble your various pieces, you have yet another opportunity to meet the users needs by how you ‘twist’ the bicycle attachment to max advantage.
When you are satisfied with how all your pieces should be, mark each joint with pencil marks so that you can line them up correctly as you glue up. I recommend that you glue up in the garage or outside as the PVC glue really smells. After the assembly is dry, you should give it a wash to clear off any PVC chips and rough spots. We have found that the rubber strap on the bicycle holder doesn’t last very long and is not large enough for some ‘super sized’ drinks. We cut it off and replace it with some length of Velcro. We glue the one end of the Velcro to the bicycle holder to keep it in place and to prevent it from getting lost.
Alexa has decorated some of her drink holders over the years with paint, but her favorite seems to be colorful duct or washi tape. We use rubbing alcohol to clean everything before applying paint or tape.
Alexa had several requests from friends when she was in college to have drink holders made for them. We are currently working on one for a work friend of hers. If a picture is worth a thousand words, how about a video?