Please excuse the quality of some of the photography. I really just wanted to document this, and I wasn’t really trying to make photographic art. =P
This is Reid. He’s a Souldoll Vito Lester.
This was Reid’s wheelchair before modification. It is a wheelchair made by Pleasant Company, circa 1990s, which is supposed to be sized for 18" play dolls.
Here’s Reid, out and about in his chair. It’s pretty realistic for a toy, but there were a few problems with it. First and foremost, it looked like a piece of hospital equipment. Reid is living with a permanent disability, so I wanted his chair to look more like a normal wheelchair for long-term use. For a doll Reid’s size (a bit taller than 18 inches!) there were a couple of logistical problems as well. The push handles of the chair were too tall and interfered with the movement of his arms. The footrests - although fairly realistic - added an extra bit of height to the place where his feet should go, so his knees needed to be bent a bit more to fit into the space.
Ideally, I wanted it to look something like this, with lowered push handles, so that it wouldn’t interfere with his arm movement and so he’d be able to reach the wheels to “move” himself.
(photo from Shutterstock.com)
The first thing I did was take the seat and back off. They’re made of nylon and attach with Velcro, so that was the easiest part of the project.
I used a cut off wheel attachment on my rotary tool to cut off the push handles, about 1cm from where they join onto the rest of the frame. The footrests were attached with Phillips screws. I unscrewed those and discovered there were some smaller pieces of plastic underneath. You can see the skinnier pieces here.
I wanted the chair to have a foot bar instead of footrests. My plan was to use part of one of the push handles to create the foot bar, but I realized that wasn’t going to work unless I cut off those skinny pieces first. Rotary tool for that job! I was able to cut off enough of one push handle to fill this space. Glued it into place, but it didn’t look particularly attractive. That was okay, though. I had a plan for that, too.
A bit of stick tape went over the seams where I glued the foot bar on. This hides the seams, plus it provides a skid-free surface for Reid’s feet. That smooth plastic is pretty slippery.
I cut down both the handles to the height I wanted and glued them back onto the frame. This took a bit of maneuvering, as I had to sand down the parts I’d cut. I used another attachment on my rotary tool for that. This is what it looked like before I sanded it, when I was just trying out the parts. It looks pretty horrible at this stage, actually. You can also see where my tool skipped and I nicked the corner of the handle. I’ve decided not to fix this. We’re going to call it “wear and tear”. This character isn’t the type to sit quietly at home anyway, and it stands to reason his chair would collect a few dents. My mistake becomes part of the total package. (When life hands you lemons…)
With the handles all sanded and glued, I added some stick tape to them as well, just for extra reinforcement. You won’t see this when I’ve finished putting the chair’s seat and back on it.
And here’s what it looks like now. The only thing left to do is put the seat cushion I made for it back into place.
Reid takes it for a test drive. Please excuse the fact that he isn’t wearing any shoes.
This works much better for him, as he can now move his arms through pretty much their whole range of motion without having those long push handles in the way, and the foot bar means his long legs don’t have to be crunched up. His not wearing any shoes for the “test drive” actually helped me verify that the tape on the foot bar is going to prevent his feet from skidding. If they didn’t slip off while he’s wearing socks, they shouldn’t slip when he’s wearing shoes.
Anyway, I consider the project a success. It’s not perfect, but I’m pleased with it.