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Monday, December 26, 2011

iBOT’s End Puts Power Wheelchair’s Users In Tough Spot

The IBOT, a wheelchair of Johnson & Johnson. (AP)

Before there was the Segway, inventor Dean Kamen introduced the iBOT, a revolutionary standing wheelchair that can climb stairs and lifts users up to standing height.

The iBOT allowed people who were paralyzed to go places they couldn’t before and do something most of us take for granted–look people in the eye.

But Johnson and Johnson stopped producing the chair in 2009 due to cost — the company only managed to sell a few hundred a year, and Medicare only paid about $5,000 for the chair, which retails for about $25,000.

Now iBOT users are facing a 2013 deadline, when the company will no longer offer routine maintenance of the chairs in circulation.

Gary Linfoot, an Iraq war veteran who became paralyzed from the waist down in the line of duty in 2008, uses the iBOT on a daily basis, in addition to other wheelchairs.

“The iBOT is great for going up and down stairs and I can take it to the beach, it does fine in sand up to a certain point,” he told Here & Now‘s Monica Brady-Myerov.

Linfoot says that the iBOT also helps him in intangible ways.

“In a wheelchair often times you find yourself kindof isolated, kindof pushed to the corner just to avoid being run over by folks, [but] the iBOT stands you up– now you’re visible to everybody, you can see everybody,” he said.

Linfoot is working to raise awareness about the IBOT to get it back on the production line.


  • Gary Linfoot, an Iraq war veteran who became paralyzed from the waist down in the line of duty in 2008. He is an iBOT user who is working to get it back in the production line.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Naseem Rakha

    It is hard to say that we should not do what ever it takes to help our wounded war veterans. And for the reason I think the Government should support the development of IBot technology. If, on the other hand, your guest had been disabled due to carelessness, drunken driving for example, I would be reluctant to agree that limited medicare dollars should be spent on this expensive and medically unnecessary technology. It comes down to a conflict between resources and ethics and this is just a small example of the tough decisions we must learn to make. 

  • http://www.slideshare.net/eilily eila

    Thank you for airing this story about the iBOT on Here and Now, and introducing the general public to the fact that Congressional deciders are entitled to hold the lives of millions of Americans with disAbilities in their hands and give a thumbs up or down on what should constitute a “medical necessity” (while, at the same time, thoughtlessly continuing to fund programs, services and facilities that are still utterly inaccessible and discriminatory right at the door).  

    YES!  Congress should ensure that the iBOT is covered  – in addition to other universal design products that allow people to lead more integrated, equitable lives.You’ve asked, “Should the iBOT be covered for soldiers like Gary?”   Medical necessity decisions should apply irregardless of whether the disability is congenital, degenerative, or acquired in the course of military or nonmilitary activities.  Such qualifications pay homage to the sticky old myth that people with disAbilities are intrinsically morally inferior individuals- with the sole exception of people with service-related disAbilities.  (For example, there’s already a comment that assumes that we should ask whether wheelchair users are disabled “due to carelessness, drunken driving for example.”  Who’s carelessness is the writer describing, anyway?!) I hope that Here and Now and other NPR programs can continue to introduce the general public into the realities of life for the largest and most economically disadvantaged minority in our nation, which is Americans with disAbilities.  For example, the discussion here might lead to more stories regarding the systemic inequalities that Americans with disAbilities continue to face, on a daily, step-by-step basis.  Shall Congress continue to weigh the obvious issues of segregation, isolation and economic disadvantages of Americans with disAbilities as though these are issues about non-necessary Americans? Shall the general public continue to tolerate a still- inaccessible-  and therefore unsustainable- built environment that continues to segregate one-fifth of our population?   Shall affirmative programs designed to overturn historic discrimination, segregation and disparities continue to deny people with disAbilities similar acknowledgement?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Peach/100002999972259 James Peach

    It would seem to me that twenty-five thousand dollars is a paltry sum to shell out for someone who can’t walk after going to war for their country. How much money do we spend on military tech that doesn’t even accomplish its goal?

  • Steve

    It’s wonderful that you broadcast this story and made people aware of a miraculous, life-enhancing technology that will soon disappear unless we recognize that quality of life is a valid criterion of “medical necessity.” And the iBot has more capabilities than were brought out by your story. My iBot allows me to reach dishes in the kitchen cabinet, towels on the bathroom shelf, books higher up in the library, without always having to ask others for help. I can teach at standing height and see all my students. I can get into the many stores that have a step. I no longer dread winter in New England and no longer have to make risky daily calculations about the grim prospect of getting stuck in ice or snow. Insurance wouldn’t pay for the iBot, and it was a huge financial hit, but I decided it was worth it and paid for it myself. I was lucky that I could do so, but most others would not be so fortunate, and the only way the technology will continue to exist is if insurance, especially Medicare, covers it. “Medical necessity” is such a subjective concept, used by insurance companies to protect their profits by denying disabled persons the ability to do the ordinary activities of daily life and work mentioned above, to feel and be safe, and to have the normal social interactions that most people just take for granted.

  • Narleywheels

    since i’ve been in the ibot chair my self esteam  has tripled.  The thaught of losing my ibot is devastating.  i believe all ibot users should get together and start a class action law suit so that the people that are in the chair can continue with the quality of life that they have experienced since being in the ibot and make it available for those that are in need of the ibot.  We need to contine with the quality of life that the ibot has given us and continue manufacturing the chair and provide maintenance.

  • Jokic Branko

    Hello everyone! My name is Branko Jokic live in Serbia-Europe
      suffer from muscular dystrophyWhether we can respond as a cost IBOT wheelchairs
    Is it possible to buy IBOT wheelchairs somewhere in Europe? Please if
    you can write me at e-mail and jokicbranko1@gmail.com  &  
    Thank you very much


  • Sbeckham20031

    When a disabled person that needs a wheelchair but lives in a home with others who are not disabled and share the common areas, should be able to do so without reconstructing the entire home to accommodate the person with special needs.  Some insurance companies and Medicare will pay for some reconstruction and design needs for the disabled.  That can be very costly.  Your design seems to be much more effortless in the long run as far as time and costs to accommodate the needs for the disabled, wheel bound individual.  Your wheelchair sounds extraordinary, but not all homes have stairs and may at least have an outside ramp.  If someone is home bound, can your engineer’s design a wheelchair that will accommodate a disabled person that just needs to be able to reach an average counter or sink, etc.  by using a power-operated lift within the legs itself that can raise up and down, while it is still own all it’s four wheels?  For example, a car seat can adjust to raise the driver up or down or a desk chair, and so on.  It sounds more economically efficient to produce this type of chair, to be affordable, especially compared to remodeling to lower sinks, cabinets, etc.  I do not know exactly how to explain what I am trying to say here.  A simple design, let’s say and outdoor antenna that can be turned and raised up and down remotely to pick up television stations?  I have done some research and I have not yet found a product of this sort.  I hope you will consider it as an option to a more affordable wheelchair.  

  • Charles Valdez

    What is the width and length of this powerchair?  Reason is, I’m planning to buy a Chevy truck with hydraulic side lift so I can load the powerchair on the sidedoor lift.

  • Truckrep65

    I am a double amputee and although the va has provided me with top of the line prosthetics I am not able to use them currently. I have PAD and I am having circulation issues with the remainder of one of my legs. Anyway I am wheelchair bound. I would love to know how I could get to experience the amazing technology that the IBOT has to offer. How can I help the cause of getting the IBOT back into production?
    My e-mail is truckrep65@ gmail.com please contact me and let me know how I can help.

    • Rachel Rohr, Here & Now

      Web producer Rachel Rohr here. I wasn’t able to find Gary’s contact info from when we had him on the show in 2011, but this info was provided on the “Team Linfoot” Facebook page: (931) 320-0995 thelinfeet(at)gmail.com.Best,Rachel

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