Permobil, the mobility company which supplied Professor Stephen Hawking with his infamous powerchair, has paid tribute to the world-renowned scientist, who died yesterday at his home in Cambridge aged 76.
Permobil is among thousands, including members of the disability community, politicians, actors and academics, to have expressed sadness at the death of Prof Hawking, who was diagnosed with a motor neurone disease at the age of 22.
Director of group communications for Permobil, Martinus Rönnerman, said that Prof Hawking had contributed a lot to society and science in general.
“Professor Hawking got the right medical equipment and was able to do what he wanted to do throughout his life. Imagine if everyone with any disability were given the right medical equipment and because of that be able to fully participate in the society. Not just the individual but also the society has everything to win with that. This is something Permobil has been fighting for as innovators for over 50 years.”
Permobil provided an F3 powerchair to Prof Hawking in April 2016, which Mr Rönnerman said the team remembers clearly. Prior to that he used a Permobil C350.
Recalling the day when Prof Hawking was supplied with his F3, Mr Rönnerman said Permobil worked with his team to build the chair according to his needs and specification. The chair was made more special by the mounting and additional devices Prof Hawking had, Mr Rönnerman said.
“The chair was a team effort of the primary spec and build was done by the production site in Sweden, the chair was then shipped to Nashville, Tennessee, for customisation for Professor Hawking and then delivered in New York City, timed with a trip he wanted to make there for other meetings.”
Permobil product specialists Jeremy Satterfield and Nathan Rose completed the final fitting and described the process as “pretty normal”, given that every user has different preferences.
Mr Rose said: “For Professor Hawking, we started off with the standard measures and then worked with him and his assistant to customise the fit and positioning for him. For example, in the end we used the footplate from his existing wheelchair because that is what he found most comfortable. When someone spends 10 to 15 hours in a chair we understand how much small differences make.”
“One of the cool things we did for his F3 wheelchair was to make unique by customising the colour trims with black and white to mimic a black hole. It was a unique F3 Black Hole edition.”
Mr Satterfield said: “I was a little starstruck when I met him. As a kid I dreamt of being an astronaut so to meet someone who actually knew about space was something really special.
“Through my work at Permobil I’ve met a lot of users at different stages of ALS, and I even have a family friend who has the slow progressing type, and I was amazed at how much Professor Hawking could still do. I remember he ate a NY strip steak and potatoes for dinner that night.”