If you’re preparing to purchase or lease a powered wheelchair (otherwise known as a powerchair) there are a few things that you should consider. Here are a few tips to help you pick out the right one for you…
Because a powerchair is carrying its own means of propulsion – a motor – they are usually necessarily larger than manual wheelchairs. You need to think carefully about what kind of size is going to work for you and this will be based on how you anticipate using a powerchair.
Firstly, your home might be adjusted for you to comfortably use a manual wheelchair. Powerchairs can be much bigger and bulkier. Although some of them are highly manoeuvrable, the wheelbase is likely to be proportionally a little wider and much longer and it’s usually a requirement to have all of the wheels ‘grounded’ all of the time so you won’t be able to tip and spin on the spot as you could with a manual wheelchair.
Similarly, if you use public transport such as buses or trains regularly, you’ll need to check with them that they can accommodate the model you have in mind – as well as thinking about logistics such as boarding and alighting.
Most powerchairs are purchased with the outdoors in mind. For the ordinary urban environment this should be ﬁne since most powerchairs will be able to deal with kerbs etc (again without tipping back). Make sure that if you anticipate using your powerchair in the dark that it comes complete with lights, indicators and hazard lights for safety. Most do but it’s worth checking.
Remember also that speed is a relative thing. Not to overcomplicate matters but a wheelchair user moves about their home at around 1-2mph. On the streets where distances between objects are further apart you’ll need to be able to shift up to between an approximate ‘walking pace’ of 4mph or up to 8mph when the highway is clearer in order to be efﬁ cient enough for practical usage.
If you plan to take your powerchair for long bracing strolls in the countryside, you may well need to be able to transport it in your own vehicle. Check dimensions and weight tolerances and think about how you’ll load and unload it. You might have to rethink this aspect since it’ll be way too big for a full time wheelchair user to transfer and then lift the powerchair into the back etc. An automated hoist system might be the answer – but this will depend on the vehicle and the powerchair you have in mind. (Small, foldable models designed for travel in cars or that will even ﬁ t down the aisle of an aeroplane are available but perhaps you’ll need to give real consideration to buying a wheelchair accessible vehicle.)
It isn’t only size speciﬁcations that differ between models. Functionality can mean that powerchairs are differently shaped and therefore have speciﬁc strengths and weaknesses. You may be looking at powerchairs because self-propelling in manual wheelchairs isn’t feasible but you might also be looking at different options such as chairs that will rise and recline – some to the point where you can raise yourself to a standing height. This brings beneﬁts such as social equality as you converse with people or enables users to make full use of say, a kitchen where cupboards are mounted high up on the walls and the like.
Even at a basic level, different powerchairs will have different capabilities, with some equipped with larger chunky wheels and tyres, speciﬁcally for traversing rough surfaces – or smaller, smoother wheels for domestic use or for scooting around the supermarket. (You will also be presented with models with varying numbers of wheels – three, four or even six – as well as different drive options such as 4×4 or midwheel.) There really is plenty to think about.
Everything about a powerchair will depend on how you want to use it. One of the baseline decisions will need to be about range. In other words, how far will you need/want to go between charges? Batteries will give you a range of somewhere between eight to 16 miles. (These are optimum values for ‘reasonably sized’ batteries.)
It’s important to consider not only how far you travel outside but include any indoor to-ing and fro-ing as well. It’s very tricky to gauge distances so most powerchairs will include a gauge on the control panel to prevent users becoming stranded. It’s also a smart move to take advice on maintenance and charging habits to keep the battery in prime condition.
Powerchairs are convenient to use but just as any automated object, will require ‘charge’. You will need to plug them in somewhere. Whilst you can sit on them whilst they charge, obviously moving around won’t be possible – and a charge can take several hours. You might consider charging your powerchair in a spare corner or another out of the way space such as a garage or utility room. (Make sure that your electrics are in good order, especially if you are going to be charging overnight when you won’t be supervising the process.)
Some of the bigger models will certainly provide adequate seating and postural support etc and are appropriate to be used as full time day-chairs, whereas some of the smaller or folding models certainly will not. You should consider transferring to a chair or holding on to a suitable manual wheelchair, as your needs require.
These notes are really a starting point. It’s a good idea to book an individual assessment (which are usually free of charge) with a reputable dealership. Assessors will be able to tackle any speciﬁc issues and help you make an informed choice between different products.
You might also seek more information or an assessment from:
NHS Wheelchair Services
NHS Wheelchair Services offer assessments to determine what type of wheelchair or mobility equipment you may be entitled to on the NHS. In most cases, you’ll be referred to the service by a hospital, doctor, consultant or occupational therapists.
Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)
The DLF provides independent advice for disabled adults and children, older people, their carers and families. The DLF’s ‘Living made easy’ website provides information on a range of different mobility equipment available for disabled people.
The well-known leasing organisation doesn’t just supply motor vehicles. Eligible disabled people can also lease mobility equipment such as powerchairs through the Motability scheme.
If the company offering the product is an authorised supplier, they will be able to support you should any problem result with the appropriate spares or back up from the manufacturer.
Once you’ve made your selection of powerchair remember to discuss aftersales care such as warranty and service.