Custom seating technician

A big thank you to Dana Quinn for answering our questions

1.  What is it exactly that you do? I am responsible for any custom work required on wheelchairs we sell. Custom arm pads, headrests, footboxes , foot cradles. The most important aspect of my job is custom moulded seating systems. Just to tell you more about what is I do, there are 3 different types of moulding systems I use. Each has its own benefits. Precision rehab moulding (or PRM) is the system I like to use more often because it allows me to get the product in a trial form that I can finish myself. I can also get into the system and make changes if necessary. Otto Bock also has a moulding system. I find the foams somewhat soft and don't like the fact that it is covered with a waterproof skin. If you need to alter the shape or add material you are left with a hard edge or lump where the alterations were made. However the skin is of benefit because it does seal the foams. The system is also quiet. They use a camping pump to suck the air out of the moulding bags. This has proven beneficial for clients who do not like the noise associated with the vacuum pump on the PRM and contour U system. You can purchase the paint to recover any openings but my experience is that the smell tears the lungs out of your chest. ‘Ride designs’ is the 3rd system we use. Where PRM and Otto Bock are full contact systems, ‘Ride designs’ is more of a prosthetic orthotics premise. This moulding system works on offloading boney prominences. The back is much like a body jacket. All of these systems can be seen online, ‘Ride designs’ actually has great youtube videos. I would suggest you look it up.

2. How did you discover the profession of custom seating? After graduating from George Brown College, I took a job at the Nova Scotia Rehab Center. I trained for two years and wrote my Orthotic tech registration there. At that time, 1987, custom seating was the responsibility of the Orthotic department.

3. What attracted you the most to that profession? I think patient contact is what appeals to me most about my job. As an Orthotic tech, depending on where you work, patient contact can be limited. But I am the one moulding the client with a prosthetist or orthotist present, to achieve the position they know will work best for the client.

4. Does it require additional education or specialized training? If so where did you receive it? I was sort of thrown into the job, learning as I went along. I was working for Motion Specialties and they approached me and asked me with I would be interested in doing custom seating. It started with me taking courses with the different suppliers. There were also learning programs at the annual seating and mobility conference in Toronto. These classes were geared towards beginners to learn the principals of seating. Our sales reps also come with a lot of experience, some with kinesiology backgrounds.

5. If someone wanted to pursue a career similar to yours, how would they go about doing that? My suggestion would be to approach a mobility company such as Motion Specialities. Ask if they have a custom seating department or are they tied to a clinic at a rehab facility. This may be more likely in a high density area like Toronto or London.

6. What sort of challenges do you face daily? There are always emergencies in the seating world. Most happen Friday of a long weekend or Christmas, when loved ones are coming home. Day to day challenges are usually time related. If an appointment runs on longer than expected the next appointment gets pushed back. A lot of our clients are non-verbal. This can make things difficult; one has to learn to read faces and body language. Communication with the client’s worker or parents is very important. Patience is a virtue, some of our clients can be violent, anxious, and unable to sit for long periods of time or need extended time in the mould to become relaxed. Patience and preparation are very important in seating. We always request a matt assessment before we put the client on the moulding machine. The matt assessment allows us figure out what their body can and can't do. Knowing this allows us to prepare the moulding bags before we put the clients on the machine. Example- if the client has an obliquity we can raise one side of moulding bag and lower the other.

7. Is there more area for growth within the field? If so, what is the next step? The field is always changing. We've moved from plywood bases with foam blocks attached, to foam in place and off the shelf back pieces, and now moulded systems. The techniques of moulding have improved, we use to have to cast the shape with plaster and send the casts away. Now we can digitize the shapes onto a computer and share that information easily. I have an old system that has pins that drop down every 1cm, it is old but functional. PRM has provided me with a newer system that just requires me to take a photo of the shapes. Otto Bock uses a pencil that we move across the moulded shape and it creates the shape by using the points of contact. Ride designs, up to recently, have used foam impressions for their seats (much like the foam used for foot orthotics), and by casting a vacuum moulded back. I understand they have now improved their system so it can be uploaded onto an ipad. I would like to see growth in the materials we use in seating. I would like to see how we can make our systems cooler. The heat build-up in our contour systems is sometimes extreme for our clients. It is a fight to achieve a liquid proof surface and still not have a build-up of heat. This is where I would like to see improvements.

8. What can one expect for an hourly wage? If you do not wish to answer this question, simply answer N/A. Salaries of coarse will vary with experience. I don't think I'd be too far off saying $17.00 to start, then reaching somewhere in the $24/hour to $27/hour range.

9. What is the work-life balance like? How many hours a week do you work? One must be flexible as far as work-life balance. I spend as much time on the road as I do in shop. Our territory runs from Newmarket to Parry Sound, Huntsville. Sutton to Kincardine, Owen Sound area. There is overtime, you can't travel all that way, tear apart someone's chair and tell them I need to be home at 5.. Again this depends on where you work; the city may be different because you are working out of a clinic and travel isn't a component.


Part 2

A big thank you to Marie for answering our questions

1. What is it exactly that you do? I make one-off and custom parts for wheelchairs. This includes everything from custom moulds to specialized mounts for attendant controls to custom footplates, elbow blocks, arm pads, etc. A lot of what you do depends on the equipment in the shop where you work and your skill set. Some custom technicians machine and weld aluminum, although my co-worker Dana has this skill, we do not have the equipment. We heat and bend ABS using a propane torch. We use a drill press, jig saw, band saw and table sander to work with ABS, various foams and wood. We sew a lot. We use primarily naugahyde with 4-way stretch, and a waterproof membrane backed 4-way stretch fabric called Triplex. Although genuine leather is more durable, our clients need easier to clean fabrics (lots of incontinence). To get a sense of what custom molding is like, please check out the three main companies we use: Ride, Ottobock and PRM. They all have their strengths and weaknesses and serve some of our clients better than others. One of the founders of Ride has a background in prosthetics, this can be seen in the design of their seat systems.

2. How did you discover the field of Home Health Care/Custom seating? I went in to P&O knowing that I wanted to do custom seating. In 2008 I was in a cycling accident and used a wheelchair for a short period of time. I spoke with the technician who fitted me with it. She (Dana) told me she had gone to George Brown College and studied P&O.

3. What attracted you the most to that profession? I think the movement of the wheels attracted me the most. It reminds me a lot of kayaking- being one with the boat (especially when you are trying to roll it), you become one with your wheelchair. I just loved the fusion of humans and wheels. Every day is unique; we do repairs, take moulds and interact with the clients at all the fittings. I love it.

4. Does it require additional education or specialized training? If so where did you receive it? The knowledge is so specialized there is no school for it. One can attend conferences and talk to occupational therapist and physiotherapists and take courses from manufacturers, but ultimately you learn on the job.

5. If someone wanted to pursue a career similar to yours, how would they go about doing that? I highly recommend completing the technical program at GBC first then apply to Motion Specialties to get that on the job experience.

6. What sort of challenges do you face daily? The hardest thing is balancing the demands of eight different sales representatives that all feel they are the priority.

7. Is there more area for growth within the field? If so, what is the next step? There is lots of room for growth within the field. There is just very limited funding. In 2016 the Government of Ontario cut funding to ADP by 20%. On-going reductions in the number of ADP-authorized therapists and less visit time for therapists also ration services. Being a publicly traded company, Motion Specialties is also expected to create a certain amount of revenue for shareholders (I feel it is often at the cost of clients). After the government cuts and being bought by Loblaws, Shoppers Home Health Care folded its seating devision. Motion Specialties took over all Shoppers clients, but did not take all the staff. At the time of the transition, we were already stretched to the max. We have increased our workload by at least 60-70% and increased our staffing by about 20-30%. It is impossible to provide the quality of service we once did and we have lost several good technicians. That’s business for you.

8. What can one expect for an hourly wage? If you do not wish to answer this question, simply answer N/A. About $20/hr.

9. What is the work-life balance like? How many hours a week do you work? I try very hard to leave my work at work. We cover a huge territory (Huntsville to Aurora and Hanover/Owen Sound to Keswick), which necessitates some long days. I have stood very firm at limiting my hours to 30 a week as family time is very important to me.

10. If you have anything else you'd like the share, please let us know. The more information we receive the better! Work as a custom seating technician can be hard to find, especially when you consider the vast territory Dana and I cover. In the end, I love my job. I have a lot of freedom to be creative and inventive every day. I get to meet all sorts of people and sometimes I get lunch from a sales rep of some sort. I enjoy working with paediatric clients the most. Not only are they incredibly cute, they also have more funding than any other population, allowing us more options to provide them with optimal seating. I learn a lot from the therapists I work with and I have learned a ton from Dana Quinn, who is my co-worker and the senior custom seating technician.

I encourage you to explore these sites:

This gives you a sense of the product, but not the part (moulding) that I do.

Here are some images

Here is some more information:

This video shows the RIDE simulator system mould.

This is the RIDE Designs youtube channel.

This is the PRM website. We use the signature fit system.

Marie and her son working on a friend's wheelchair.

Marie and her son working on a friend's wheelchair.