When choosing a new powered wheelchair you will want to ensure that it suits your disability while providing comfort and support. Doing research and knowing your requirements will make finding the right powered wheelchair easier. Writer, blogger and powered wheelchair user, Emma Muldoon, shares her tips on things to bear in mind.
Research the options
With such a wide range of powered wheelchairs available, it can feel a little overwhelming. Consider what features the wheelchair must have as well as what you would like it to have. This will help create a list of potential wheelchair models and specifications that best suit your needs and disability. A wheelchair specialist or dealer is a good place to start as they will be able to advise and make recommendations based on your needs. All Motability Scheme dealers carry out a free home assessment and demonstration of potentially suitable products. Mhairi McCallum from Albion Mobility, a dealership based in Scotland added “we have an informal chat with the client about how their condition affects them, whether they have other conditions they may need to be aware of, what things they would like to be able to do and what things restrict them”. The assessment process also includes trying out a range of options as well as backrests and cushions to trial for comfort.
Indoor or outdoor?
Although I can’t walk, I consider myself to be an active powered wheelchair user. Being in employment, going out with my friends and family and my love of travelling means I require a wheelchair for outdoor use. Tackling rough and challenging outdoor terrain is an almost daily occurrence for me. When choosing an outdoor powered wheelchair it was important to consider the general durability of the wheelchair as well as what tyres would be most suitable. These features would ensure my overall comfort was maintained at all times when outdoors and carrying out daily activities.
If your priority is for a powered wheelchair that can be used both indoors and outdoors, then maybe you require a compact powered wheelchair that can easily navigate around the home, through doorways and can be easily stored. It’s important you consider both your indoor and outdoor environment, taking into account your surroundings and daily routines. During the initial home assessment, your dealer will consider general access to the home as well as things like access to kitchen cupboards, under sinks and dining tables. They will also look at where the wheelchair will be stored and charged and of course the environment around the home, including local terrains and kerbs.
Like bikes and cars, powered wheelchairs are heavy and therefore require suspension too. Simple tasks like driving over a slightly uneven pavement can cause pain and discomfort, so a powered wheelchair with good suspension is a must for me personally. Suspension is particularly important as it creates a smoother ride as well as reducing bumps and vibrations felt whilst driving over rough ground or going down a kerb. The benefits of having suspension massively improves my overall comfort and experience. It also allows me to spend longer periods of time in my wheelchair without pain and pressure building up. As result, my quality of life is greatly increased and I can enjoy a greater level of independence.
Seating is one of, if not the most important factor when it comes to comfort for wheelchair users. Like myself, many wheelchair users may be sitting in their wheelchairs from the moment they get up in the morning to the moment they go to bed at night. It’s vital that we are comfortable and have suitable postural support while in our wheelchairs to eliminate or reduce any pain and discomfort. When prescribing a powered wheelchair to a client, Mhairi says the dealership always takes into consideration the clients “body dimensions, functional needs, comfort and expressing their personal tastes as much as possible”.
From my own experience, it can take some time to get used to new products and that includes seating. Whenever I get a new wheelchair seat cushion I remember to give it time and allow the padding or gel to settle into my shape. Don’t be afraid to speak to your dealer as many times as you need to if you require adjustments and modifications. These modifications may include different styles of backrest, pressure-relieving cushions, laterals, headrests, different styles of legrests and so on.
“It can take some time to get used to new products and that includes seating…don’t be afraid to speak to your dealer as many times as you need to if you require adjustments and modifications”
Due to the progressive nature of my disability, it is important to be able to make adjustments to my seat cushions and backrest when my condition deteriorates. Personally, I’ve found that a custom-made moulded wheelchair seat cushion and backrest have been fundamental in managing my comfort whilst relieving pressure, minimising pain, as well as adapting to my complex seating needs. A custom-made cushion wouldn’t be required in most cases; however your dealer will be able to recommend the best combination of cushions and backrests to suit your needs. A thorough risk assessment by specialists will be carried out for more complex modifications and custom build powered wheelchairs.
Extras to consider
I know it can be difficult and we can never know for certain what will happen in the future, but it may be worth bearing in mind if your disability is likely to change. For me, I know my disability will gradually deteriorate and my muscles will become weaker. Are changes, deterioration or improvements likely to influence your decision when choosing a powered wheelchair?
The Motability Scheme has more than 200 powered wheelchairs to lease on a three year lease with an all-inclusive package. The Scheme also offers the option of custom-built powered wheelchairs on a five year lease, if your needs are specific and you require something tailor-made to meet your requirements. Standard powered wheelchairs start from just over £20 per week.