Your wheelchair or powerchair may be the single most important piece of equipment you’ll own. Our top tips are designed to help you decide which one will work best for you.
It’s crucially important that whatever type of chair you select, that it fits you. A poor fit could cause irritation, waste your energy when propelling it (if it’s a manual chair) and worse still result in sores that can turn very nasty indeed.
Seat size is the key measurement. You’ll need to have enough room for comfort but not too wide so you don’t benefit from the support of armrests, etc. Similarly, if your seat depth (from base of spine to backs of knees) is too long it will irritate you. Irritation can cause you to sit incorrectly which will inevitably result in aches and pains of some description. Since wheelchairs are less commonly available in varying seat depths, you may have to use seating accessories such as cushions to adjust the seat to suit you (although many do in fact, have adjustable seating options).
Remember to think about the different sorts of clothing you might be wearing in summer and winter, for example.
Lots of manual wheelchairs, for example have a user weight limit of 18 stones (114kg). Exceeding the weight limit can be dangerous. Specialist wheelchairs for heavier people are available.
The bottom line (pun intended) is that a wheelchair is a seat. The time you intend to spend in the wheelchair will determine the sort of seating it has. Some wheelchairs are designed for all-day use and will be very comfortable and incorporate specially designed cushions to prevent pressure sores/ injuries. There are three categories of risk regarding pressure sores: low, medium and high.
If you think you’re a medium or high risk, it would be best to speak to a specialist adviser who will be able to help you select the correct cushion for your needs. Gel or air-based cushions are best for high risk, whereas medium risk users should look for a memory foam or a memory foam and gel construction. Low risk users would generally be OK with a basic foam cushion.
If you’re going to be taking your manual wheelchair in the car you’ll probably know that quick-release wheels are fairly common and very handy, allowing you to take the wheelchair to bits, etc. Powerchair users, on the other hand, will need to make sure that they have a suitably large vehicle, even if their chair disassembles – or some form of hoist or lift if it doesn’t.
Think also about anti-tip wheels. These are designed to stop people from falling backwards, although some people will say that they prevent them from manipulating their wheelchair as easily up kerbs etc. They are usually adjustable or can be removed altogether. Best advice is to see which way suits you after a bit of practise.
An overlooked aspect of finding the right wheelchair is how it affects posture. You should neither be sat with your shoulders raised or indeed, in a slouched position. Both can increase the likelihood of aches and pains and are the enemy of good circulation and breathing. Features like armrests and footplates are often adjustable – but you need to account for any accessories such as cushions etc. Review posture regularly and try to avoid bad habits.
Lighter wheelchairs are easier to push and will cause you to use less energy. Generally, lighter wheelchairs are more expensive.
The term ‘range’ refers to the distance your powerchair can travel on a single charge. This will depend on model and battery, etc. Be sure to establish not only how far it will take you but also how long it takes to charge up.
Make sure the supplier you select is a member of The British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA). This association expects their members to provide a high level of service – and you’ll have recourse through the Association should any difficulties arise.
It is advisable to take out insurance against third party fire and theft. Check your house contents policy or search for specialist insurance cover.
Value Added Tax
As a registered disabled person your wheelchair or powerchair purchase is VAT exempt. As the purchaser and owner of the wheelchair, you will not pay VAT.