People with walking disabilities or reduced mobility aren’t the only ones who need wheelchairs – they are also essential in disabled sports. Two-time world fencing champion Maurice Schmidt, for instance, swears by his Sessio. We spoke to Lutz Kadereit, the managing director of the company, about the origins of his wheelchairs and the advantages they offer.
Mr Kadereit, what initially inspired the development of the Sessio wheelchair?
Our roots are actually in the automotive industry: seats, panelling and dashboards are our core business. In 2007, we received an order from a car manufacturer to develop the world’s lightest car seat. While we were researching suitable materials, fate stepped in to help us. A business partner drew our attention to a new kind of magnesium alloy, which he had developed together with a Chinese company. He showed us a sample tube, which wasn’t ultimately used in the car seat – but my partner Dietmar Lenz had another idea: his seventy-year-old mother wasn’t happy with her wheelchair. She needed her husband’s help whenever she wanted to store it in her Golf Cabriolet, which had a high sill and small boot.
We then built a prototype for a folding wheelchair and showed his mother this model: after just a little practice, she managed to fold it with one hand and stow it away in the car by herself. I’ll never forget that moment! She closed the boot lid, said to her husband: ‘You’ve got a problem now: I don’t need you anymore’ – and grinned at everyone. We knew right then that we wanted to put that smile on as many faces as possible. Following in-depth research and planning, we turned this idea first into a dedicated project and then into a dedicated company.
How did you end up with Sessio as the company’s name?
Our company developed out of Sitz GmbH. So on the one hand, it was important to us to find a company name that tied in to the theme of seats. At the same time, we wanted a name that is easy to say in any language. So a word with a Latin root was an obvious choice. And that’s how Sessio came about.
Looking at your brochures, the attention to details, the material, the design, the colours and the customisability make you think of the sports car segment. It looks chic and modern.
We do have our roots in the automotive sector, and customisation is generally a key topic there. In that sense, we see the Sessio as a prime example of a product that’s come about thanks to a transfer of technology. We are able to tailor a wheelchair to our customers as you would a suit, because the simple basic components – especially the tubes and fibreglass-reinforced plastic collars – allow us to customise the Sessio to the user down to the centimetre.
How did your collaboration with famous handbiking world champion Stefan Bäumann come about?
My partner’s mother was our first customer: she was 70 years old, small and her illness had weakened her. To make our potential target group as wide as possible, we needed someone who was the exact opposite: a young man who was active and athletic. And, as Stefan Bäumann lives near to us, we simply got in touch with him. He agreed straight away – and we then continued to develop the Sessio further by working together closely with both test customers in small steps until we were happy with the result and also received the official statutory approval.
Is the Sessio suitable for everyone?
It’s suitable for almost everyone who has finished growing. This applies to pensioners, but also to many young customers who are taking their driving test and want to be mobile. Our wheelchairs are not cheap, but the costs of converting a car that carries a conventional wheelchair are much higher. And young people in particular don’t want to have their parents or other helpers along all the time. They can easily stow the Sessio in a small used car. This is a huge advantage, especially for new drivers and young people.
What do the minimum and maximum versions of the Sessio cost, and do health insurance companies cover the costs?
A wheelchair costs an average of between 4,000 and 5,000 euros. However, there are a wide range of accessories for people with specific illnesses or disabilities. The fully expanded version with one-hand drive and a leg support for people with brittle bone disease can cost up to 7,000 euros. The good news is that the statutory health insurance companies cover the costs for 80 percent of the wheelchairs purchased from us in full. This is because we exclusively offer individual, custom-made products and can accurately justify every single case. Thankfully, the health insurance companies are very cooperative in this respect.
Let’s assume that I have reduced mobility. Why should I purchase a Sessio wheelchair in particular?
Because you can load it into and out of a car without any help from other people, without any technical equipment or any structural modifications to the car. And with one hand – in just two minutes.
Does the Sessio fit in a Smart car as well?
You won’t believe it, but we had a Smart Cabrio as the second car in our fleet for a long time. And we were able to fit four Sessios in it without any problems!
And what about flying? Can you put the Sessio in your hand luggage?
That’s another significant advantage of the Sessio. When you fold it up, it fits easily into the hand luggage compartment above the seats. And there is a separate bag for the wheels so that other items or clothing don’t get dirty. You don’t have to go through the lengthy process of checking the Sessio in as oversize luggage, which is especially important for connecting flights. And you can rest assured that you know where your wheelchair is at all times – and that you’ll get it back in one piece after the flight.
You’ve convinced me. I’d like to take one for a test drive. Do I have to come to Isenbüttel to do that?
You can, but you don’t have to. Many people from the region like to come here because they want to take a look at our company as well. Otherwise, we work with a large medical supplier, which has six branches in Germany and its own field sales team. But we also have a solution for customers at other medical suppliers: in that case, we contact the medical supplier ourselves and send them a demo model. To be clear: anyone who would like to test drive a Sessio can do so – as soon as possible.
What can we expect from the Sessio in future?
We are currently developing a prototype for a Sessio with an electric drive. The battery can be removed, and the drive is hidden in the axle. Our aim is for the whole thing to weigh a maximum of twelve kilos in total. This would be a milestone, as all conventional electric wheelchairs weigh 30 kilos or more. And we’re already looking forward to putting a smile on people’s faces with this wheelchair, too.