Talking about disability and things related to it, on some level, makes a lot of people uneasy. Being forced to acknowledge that, at some point, our bodies may give out on us and force us to be attached to any sort of machine isn’t a great feeling.
The reality is that many people have to use them, and many circumstances can lead to someone being wheelchair-bound. Whether it be an injury, an illness, or the simple process of aging, many people will have to rely on a wheelchair. Heck, even prolonged stays in the hospital for a number of reasons can cause so much dystrophy in our leg muscles that we can become wheelchair bound for a time.
If you’re reading this, odds are you or someone you know is facing the reality of needing a wheelchair. You are probably feeling pretty nervous and lost on the subject.
Most people don’t research wheelchairs in their free time because they hope they’ll never need one. You’re probably wondering things like what wheelchair do you buy? How much is too expensive? How do I choose sizes? How do electric wheelchairs work?
The purpose of this article will be to ease all of those concerns about buying a wheelchair. We’ll let you know how to choose the right size of a wheelchair, explain the ins and outs of electric wheelchairs, and even give a few suggestions on what specific wheelchairs may be right for you or your loved one.
What Size Wheelchair Do I Need?
There are many different factors to consider when choosing the size of a wheelchair. The size of your frame is obviously the first consideration, but choosing the size of wheelchair that is appropriate for your house and lifestyle is another very important step.
If you choose a wheelchair that is too wide or too heavy to fit in your house, you may have made a mistake along the way. In this section, we’ll be discussing how to choose the properly sized wheelchair for you or your loved one.
We’ll start with bodily considerations, as those are arguably the most important factor in choosing a wheelchair size. The main things to check are the seat’s width, seat depth, and chair back height. The chair must be wide enough for your frame to fit inside and deep enough for you to be able to sit comfortably.
Meanwhile, the back of the chair must be high enough to support your spine while you sit. Checking for each is actually really simple and stress-free. To check for width, you need only to sit down and measure the width of your backside at its widest point while sitting.
Seat depth can be determined by measuring the back of your buttocks to the back of your knee while sitting down. The necessary height of the back of the chair can be discovered by measuring the bottom of your buttock to the top of your shoulders, and this is also done while sitting.
There is one more bodily consideration, and that is seat-to-floor height. This can be looked at in two different ways, and this depends on whether or not the user of the chair will be using their feet to propel themselves forward while in the chair. This is measured from the back of the knees to the floor while sitting on a flat surface.
If the individual in the wheelchair will be using their feet to move around, their feet must be able to reach the ground while in the wheelchair. Otherwise, their feet will be resting off the ground in all situations, and this will be less of a dilemma.
After this is considered, we can then move onto the width of the wheelchair itself. There are many different varieties of wheelchairs, but the main types are transport wheelchairs, standard folding wheelchairs, reclining wheelchairs, bariatric wheelchairs, and powered, or electric, wheelchairs.
There are some overlaps in these types in that a wheelchair can technically fall into two of these types. For example, a transport wheelchair or an electric wheelchair can still have a folding or reclining option.
In addition, there are other less common varieties used such as standing wheelchairs, ergonomic wheelchairs, and pediatric wheelchairs, but these are less common and often used by medical institutions specifically. So we’ll focus on those first five types.
While there may be slight variations from brand to brand, the common width variations for those main five types of wheelchairs are as follows. A transport wheelchair, which is a wheelchair with smaller wheels that prevent the user from propelling themselves around, is generally the width of the chair plus three-inches.
A standard folding wheelchair, which is a wheelchair that can be folded to be stored away when not in use, is the width of the chair plus eight-inches. A recliner wheelchair, which is a wheelchair that can lean back to allow the user to do the same, is the width of the seat plus eight-inches.
A bariatric wheelchair, which is a heavy-duty and more durable wheelchair often used by heavier individuals, is the width of the seat plus eight-inches as well. Lastly, an electric wheelchair, which is a wheelchair that can propel itself through an internal motor, is generally the width of the seat plus nine-inches.
The weight of these wheelchairs can also vary greatly from brand to brand and model to model. That being said, transport chairs, standard folding chairs, and reclining chairs tend to be the lightest chairs. Bariatric chairs can be heavier than those due to the materials used to make them.
There are ultra-weight and sports varieties of each of these types of chairs, so that should be taken into consideration as well. Overall, electric chairs are the heaviest due to its materials and the machinery that is included within to allow the wheelchair to propel itself. So consider these facts when choosing which wheelchair is right for you or your loved one.
How Do Electric Wheelchairs Work?
With the technological advances of the modern era, there are a wide variety of electric wheelchairs capable of propelling themselves without any physical exertion from the user or any aid. However, there are commonalities to all electric wheelchairs, and we will discuss those here.
First and foremost, an electric wheelchair will have three things that other wheelchairs do not: a motor and some sort of power source, usually a type of battery pack, and a control panel for the user to access.
Underneath the chair lies the systems platform which connects the power source, the motor, and the control panel that is set up on the arm rest of the wheelchair through wiring. They can use dry or wet cell batteries that generally have an output of 4 to 5 amps.
That control panel is how the wheelchair user controls the electric wheelchair, and it most often has options for the seat position and angle, the speed at which the wheelchair moves, and, of course, an interface which directly controls the movement of the wheelchair.
They most often use a joystick, like on a videogame controller, to give the user a good one-to-one feeling of control over the wheelchair. There is a wide variety of drive controls similar to a car. There can be front-wheel drive, center-wheel drive, back-wheel drive, or four-wheel drive.
Given the different nature of an electric wheelchair, they will almost never have only two wheels with which to move. They will often have three to five wheels to give the wheelchair more control in its movement since a human hand isn’t in manual control over its movement.
Since electric wheelchairs are designed to give their users complete independence, the wheels are often given variable suspension struts to allow the wheelchair to traverse uneven surfaces without its wheels ever losing contact with the ground. This lessens the risk of the wheelchair tipping over and its user falling to the ground.
You will still want to be able to go out and enjoy nature while you are in a wheelchair, but you won’t want to risk becoming helpless on the ground. That suspension will allow for you to still go on those nature walks and navigate hilly areas, rocky planes, and other angled surfaces without the risk of the wheelchair falling over.
Electric wheelchairs are great for users who want independence and ease of use. They are ideal for patients who live on their own, but due to their ailment, cannot use traditional self-propelled wheelchairs. That being said, they are for any wheelchair-bound patients, and they may just be the right choice for you or your loved-one who is facing a possible future of being reliant on a wheelchair.
What Wheelchair to Buy
There is a wide variety of models and brands of wheelchairs on the market. This is good, as it gives us plenty of choices to choose from. A transport wheelchair is best for a loved one whose mental faculties are failing and you do not want to risk them becoming lost and getting themselves into trouble. The wheels are smaller, so the user cannot reach them.
In addition, the feet will be elevated off the ground, so they will not be able to propel themselves that way either. Drive Medical, Nova Medical, and Medline provide the best brands of transport wheelchairs, and Drive Medical, in particular provides a good ultra-lightweight model that makes the wheelchair easy to move around.
A standard folding wheelchair is best for individuals who move around and travel a lot, particularly if they do not have a large van to transport their wheelchair in. The standard folding wheelchair allows its user to move themselves around through rolling the wheels manually, and the wheelchair folds to allow it to be stored away in a compact space.
This is great for the user to store it away in a smaller car whenever they travel. The best models of the standard folding wheelchair are provided by Sunrise Medical, Drive Medical, and Nova Medical. In addition, KD Smart Chair and EZ Smart Chair provide folding powered wheelchairs, but they are much more expensive than the other brands listed above.
A reclining wheelchair is good for users who still want to be able to relax from the comfort of their wheelchair. It can lean back and allow for full relaxation while still sitting in the chair. Drive Medical, Heartway, and Medline provide highly rated reclining wheelchairs. EZ Lite Cruiser also provides an electric reclining wheelchair, but it is significantly more expensive than the brands listed above.
The bariatric wheelchair is ideal for larger or heavier users who need the wheelchair to support them while moving around. It is made of more durable and resistant materials to transport the user around. Excel, Medline, and Everest and Jennings provide good models of bariatric wheelchairs that will likely fulfill the needs of the end user.
Lastly, an electric or powered wheelchair is ideal for an independent wheelchair user who cannot necessarily always propel themselves around, particularly if they have some sort of disease or condition that paralyzes or weakens their muscles.
Ameriglide, Pacesaver, and KD Smart Chair provide the highest rated electric wheelchairs. There is a very wide variety of models and brands on the market, so it is recommended that a potential user still does some research themselves.
So that’s that. Hopefully, this article eased some of your and your loved one’s concerns about shopping for and using a wheelchair of any kind. Needing a wheelchair is an unfortunate situation for anyone. No one chooses to go into the chair.
However, that is not the end of one’s life, and a person can still be mobile and independent from within a wheelchair. Choosing a wheelchair isn’t too scary, and there is a wheelchair for everyone’s situation. Good luck in your search, and keep your chin up. You and your loved ones will be just fine.