Independence with iBOT®
Ronda Jones wears many important hats: she is a mother, a grandmother, an Army veteran, a para-athlete, and an advocate and mentor for people with limb loss. She is also a motivational speaker, an author, and now, an inspiring iBOT user.
Ronda, who lives in Virginia, discovered the iBOT at the Abilities Expo, where she saw the device being demonstrated. She was instantly impressed, and knew she had to have her own.” The iBOT Personal Mobility Device (PMD) is a multi-modal power wheelchair in which users can climb stairs or curbs and drive though rough terrain like sand, snow, and gravel; the iBOT can also balance on two wheels, elevating the user to eye level with their peers.
Ronda first tried to get her iBOT through the Veterans Administration, which offers iBOTs to qualified veterans at no charge to them. However, Ronda was denied by the VA. She then worked with the Mobius Mobility team to find another path to freedom: receiving an iBOT through non-profit support. Mobius Mobility encouraged Ronda to apply for a grant through the Robert Irvine Foundation, a non-profit founded by Robert Irvine that works to support the physical and mental well-being of veterans and service members. Ronda applied, and a few months later, she became the first female recipient of the award. She received her iBOT through the Robert Irvine Foundation in May of 2023.
Ronda was injured while serving in the military during Desert Storm. After her amputation, Ronda used a manual chair and a Quantum power chair for her mobility needs – but she quickly found that she was very limited in the terrains and the parts of her community that she could access.
To Ronda, her iBOT represents the ability to be spontaneous, independent, and free. “The iBOT is definitely a game changer. For me, it has changed all the things I don’t like about being in a wheelchair. Water is not an issue – snow is not an issue. Neither is gravel, and other obstacles,” Ronda said.
Some of Ronda’s favorite features of her iBOT are its long battery life, 4-Wheel Mode’s ability to get over curbs and rough terrain, and the ability to hose down the powerbase after taking it outside. “The iBOT is a change in the right direction for technology.”
In her previous devices, Ronda used to worry about every step of her travels. Anywhere she went, she used to have to call ahead and ask “a million and one questions” about accessibility. “Now, the iBOT has made me more spontaneous. I have found so much confidence to be able to say, ‘yes I can, I can do this.’” Whether it’s a sporting event, the mall, a family outing, or her garden, Ronda is able to partake in parts of life she couldn’t before. “The iBOT has boosted my morale and increased my energy. My will to want to do has tripled!”
An important part of the process in becoming an iBOT user is training: users must first learn to use the modes of the device and all safety precautions. Ronda enjoyed her training at the Mobius Mobility headquarters: “the training was very thorough. The Mobius Mobility team was very patient and kind – they did over and beyond to make sure that I was trained and comfortable,” she said.
Training, which usually takes 2-3 days, was an immersive and exciting process for Ronda – an experience that resulted in her ability to use her device almost anywhere that she wanted to go.
“I don’t need to ask my husband to go out to the garden to get the strawberries – I can go myself,” Ronda added.
The iBOT® Backstory: Where It’s Been and Where It’s Going
The iBOT has come a long way since its original introduction by Johnson & Johnson in the early 2000s. The previous generations of the iBOT PMD, the 3000 and 4000, came with fewer features and no options for customization – more of a “one size fits all” device. Johnson & Johnson was unable to secure insurance coverage of the iBOT.
Fast forward to 2019, and Mobius Mobility launched the next generation iBOT PMD. Since its inception, 250+ users (and counting!) have been welcomed to the iBOT community. In 2023 Mobius Mobility was able to achieve what J&J could not: secure insurance coverage and reimbursement for the iBOT. The news represents a meaningful next step for potential iBOT users in the United States: greater financial accessibility.
Lucas Merrow, CEO of Mobius Mobility, gave some details on the Mobius Mobility mission and where the company is headed.
Reimbursement for iBOT®s is also available through vocational rehabilitation for those looking to return to or maintain employment and through federal workers compensation. In addition, Mobius Mobility has partnered with two non-profit credit unions to provide financing for the amounts that insurance does not cover, and with non-profit foundations to provide additional financial assistance. By providing as many routes to freedom as possible, Mobius Mobility’s reimbursement team is getting iBOT users the insurance coverage and funding options they are entitled to.
“Funding mobility equipment is often a challenge. To simplify things and keep costs as low as possible, Mobius Mobility has taken a direct approach. We manufacture the iBOT right here in Manchester, New Hampshire, and provide distribution, training, and service, all in house,” Lucas said.
Rising Above Limits
Max Burt is the founder of Wheel Easy, a non-profit information organization created to help people find accessible resources while traveling. Max, who is based in Australia, is an avid traveler. Max also enjoys going to the theater and participating in adaptive sports – such as tandem skydiving.
In 1999, while driving home from work one day, Max got into a car accident. He spent the next 10 months in the hospital recovering. While his broken bones eventually mended, he was left with a traumatic brain injury causing difficulty balancing, which requires him to use a wheelchair.
Max initially heard of the first generation iBOT in 2002, a few years after his accident, in a newspaper ad in the Sunday Times. At the time, Max was living in Europe, and he became one of the first European users to receive an original-generation iBOT. When Max heard that Johnson & Johnson was discontinuing the first generation iBOTs, he created the “Save the iBOT” Facebook group page so that iBOT users across the world could come together and join a community of people touched by the iBOT’s technology.
“If you were lucky enough to become [an iBOT user], most users wouldn’t want to see it die. Because they appreciated how life changing it could be,” Max said.
In October of 2022, Max self-funded and received the new generation iBOT PMD from Mobius Mobility. He became an iBOT PMD user because he recognized that the device was “infinitely more flexible” than any other mobility aid he had tried, he said.
Max compared owning and using a wheelchair to wearing shoes – most people have multiple different pairs for different occasions and uses. One for personal time, one for work, one for running around or going to the beach. “Obviously as a wheelchair user, it is pretty difficult to own upwards of four or five different wheelchairs for different occasions. The iBOT in a way does many different things, but in one chair. It is very flexible – it can elevate you in social situations or in meetings. I have yet to come across a wheelchair that does anywhere near the kind of things that the iBOT can do,” Max said.
With Balance Mode, the iBOT uses advanced technologies like gyroscopes and sensors to keep the person level and raised while balancing on two wheels. This way, the device mimics standing, in that the powerbase and wheels stay under the person as they move in the device. “[The iBOT] mimics the natural body movements of someone standing up – it is more natural and human,” Max explained.
Balance Mode allows Max to talk one-on-one with someone on a totally equal level. “Being up on two wheels is immensely important to me. It lends me an air of credibility as I run the charity – I do work in the world of business, and it is absolutely essential to me that people believe me and take seriously what comes out of my mouth,” Max said.
“I cannot stress the difference it has on the perceptions other people have of you and your own perceptions. It really has an impact on how you feel about yourself – not just your relationship with other people, but also your relationship that you have with yourself,” Max added.
Finding Freedom in the EU
Carla Mense purchased her iBOT through 2KERR in the summer of 2022. 2KERR is a European distributor of self-balancing mobility devices for people with disabilities. Located in the Netherlands, 2KERR sells and markets the iBOT PMD for users in the European Union. The company has an experience center where new users can train in the device, just like Mobius Mobility in the United States.
Already a user of a different 2KERR-distributed mobility device, the Bi-Go Seated Segway, Carla found it increasingly difficult to use this primary device, as her progressive multiple sclerosis worsened.
After receiving an email announcing the introduction of the iBOT in the Netherlands, Carla scheduled a test drive of the iBOT; she purchased her iBOT immediately after her second test drive. She then patiently waited as all the parts were put together and shipped. “What a long wait that is when you look forward to something so much!” Carla said.
Reimbursement for the iBOT PMD varies from country to country in the EU, and in some countries even from municipality to municipality. This is the case in the Netherlands, where the municipalities are responsible for care for residents with disabilities through the Social Support Act (WMO).
A positive in many European countries is that, when available, reimbursement is not subject to the “in the home” limitation imposed by Medicare and most private U.S. insurers. Most European governments recognize the importance of having their citizens with disabilities fully engaged in their communities – something the US needs to make a priority.
2KERR was a helpful resource for Carla throughout her process of getting her iBOT. “2KERR explained a lot to me during the test drive about the process of the municipality. In addition, they gave me the tip to apply for a personal budget from the municipality. 2KERR can help and support you in applying for an assistive device through the WMO or a personal budget through the municipality,” she said.
For Carla, the iBOT was the perfect replacement for the Bi-Go wheelchair. “It gives me more support, a comfortable seating position, and I can easily ride over rough terrain. In addition, the iBOT gives me even more freedom through the different driving modes,” she said.
For Carla, the most important thing is that she can look someone in the eye again when she wants to. “This makes me feel like an equal again,” she said. In Balance Mode, while shopping, she can reach almost everything, even on the top shelf.
Life has changed for Carla since getting her iBOT, and the device helps keep her active. “The various driving modes allow me to get anywhere I want without having to think in advance about whether it is possible,” she said. But Balance is the mode that has been the most impactful for Carla. “I feel like an ordinary person again among my fellow human beings,” she said.
Other iBOT users have called the iBOT “game changing,” “a Transformer,” and “more of an Iron Man suit.” When asked to describe her own iBOT in just a few words, Carla said, “The iBOT is a wheelchair with the capabilities to live life as normal as possible.”
If you are interested in beginning your iBOT journey, Mobius Mobility would love to speak with you – call 833-346-4268 or email in**@mo************.com. The iBOT PMD is available to veterans FULLY COVERED under the federal supply schedule: VA FSS #36F79721D0202. If you are in Europe, contact 2KERR at in**@me******.com.