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Once a chair with simple wheels that needed to be operated manually, today’s wheelchairs are modern marvels of technology.
Today, power chairs can be operated with the touch of a switch, the turn of a joystick, or a steady gaze from the eye. Chairs are endowed with sensors and other features that enhance functionality, comfort, and mobility. They are made for travel, recreation and fitness. Additionally, making choices regarding what wheelchair will best serve a child or adult is more complex than ever before, simply because of the diversity of what’s available in the marketplace. Here’s a primer on what’s available in the marketplace.
What you may want to know when purchasing a wheelchair
Consult with the doctors and therapists to obtain input on the type of wheelchair and the type of components required, specifically for posture, balance, weight, support, positioning requirements, head support, etc.
Know the type of wheelchair you are looking for
Types of wheelchairs include:
- Manual wheelchair
- Powered wheelchair
These wheelchairs are also categorized in the following manner:
- Folding Ultralight
- Heavy Duty Use
- Rigid Ultralight
Powered wheelchairs are classified as:
- High end custom and custom rehab power wheelchairs
- Low end custom and custom rehab power wheelchairs
- High end standard power wheelchairs
- Low end standard power wheelchairs
Some within the industry classify wheelchairs as:
- Front-wheel drive power wheelchairs
- Center wheel drive power wheelchairs
- Rear wheel drive power wheelchairs
- Standing power wheelchairs
- Heavy duty power wheelchairs
- Pediatric power wheelchairs
Know how you want to operate your wheelchair
Wheelchairs can be operated in several ways:
- Manually operated by user
- Pushed by another
Determine the correct seat width
Seat size specifications are primarily concerned with the seat width and the seat height specifications.
Seat width standards are generally listed according one of two industry standards:
- Youth seats – from 10″ to 15″
- Narrow seats – from 15″ to 17″
- Standard seats – from 17″ to 19″
- Wide seats – from 19″ to 24″
- Extra wide seats – from 24″ to 34″
Or, transport chairs are classified as:
- 16″ to 18″ seat width – For person with a waist up to 30 inches, weight up to 200 lbs, and height up to 6′.
- 17″ to 19″ seat width – For person with a waist of 30″ to 36″, weight up to 250 lbs, and height up to 6′.
- 19″ to 22″ seat width – For person with a waist of 36″ to 40″, weight up to 350 lbs, and height up to 6’2″.
- 22″ and up seat width – For person with a waist of 40″ and up, weight of 450 lbs or more, and height up to 6’2″ to 6’4″.
Determine the ideal seat height
Seat height – Although the standard seat is 19″ to 20″ off the ground, the general classification for seat height is:
- Short – Less than a 19″ off the ground
- Standard – 19″ to 20″ off the ground
- Tall – seats that are more than 20″ off the ground
Select a chair weight
Typically, chairs that are lighter weight are easier to transport, move and store, but they can be less durable. Chairs that are heavier – primarily powered chairs – can be more difficult to lift or move, but in some cases are built sturdy. Some fold, while others do not. These can limit or enhance transport or travel options.
Industry standards for chair weight are:
- Ultralight weight – weigh up to 20 lbs.
- Light weight – weighs 29 lbs to 34 lbs.
- Standard weight – weights 35 lbs and up.
- Sport – weighs up to 25 lbs.
Select an arm rest preference
Arm rests provide shoulder support, however they may not be convenient in all settings. Options include:
- Standard full length arm rests – these typically are 15 inches and run the full length of the chair.
- Desk length arm rests – these typically are 11 inches to accommodate sitting closer to a table or desk.
- Adjustable height arm rests – these can be adjusted for comfort and use.
- Removable arm rests – these can be removed for functionality.
- Flip back arm rests – these can be flipped upward and are commonly preferred when needing to sit at a desk or table, or when trying to transfer the individual.
Determine the type of seat cushioning you will require
Wheelchairs typically come with fabric or vinyl seats. However, if an individual is going to be sitting in a wheelchair for more than two hours daily, comfort cushions provide comfort and protection from skin sores. Options include:
- Foam cushions (softer sit)
- Gel cushions (softer sit)
- Positioning cushions (contours for posturing)
- Preventive cushions (prevents skin irritation)
Cushions typically come in four sizes:
- 17″ cushions for individuals weighing up to 150 lbs.
- 19″ cushions for individuals weighing 150 lbs. to 250 lbs.
- 20″ cushions for individuals weighing 250 lbs. to 350 lbs.
- 22″ cushions for individuals weighing 350 lbs. to 450 lbs.
Consider your leg and foot rest requirements
Leg rests have swinging mechanisms so the rests can swing to the outside. They are also removable. Foot rests, however come in two types:
- Swingaway and removable
- Elevating and removable
Know your wheelchair’s tire specifications
Transport wheels come in three sizes:
Determine whether you will require a patient transfer lifter
Types of patient transfer lifters include:
- Heavy duty lifts
- Manual patient lifts
- Power patient lifts
- Overhead ceiling lifts
- Patient lift slings
- Patient slings
- Pool lifts
- Safe patient handling lifts
Consider your financing options
- Insurance plan coverage
- Medicare/Medicaid coverage
- Rental options
- Slightly used options
- Funding sources
- Donation centers
- Manufacturer finance options
- Manufacturer rebates
Shop the competition
A list of wheelchair companies include:
- Aquila Corporation
- Aspen Seating, Llc/Ride Designs
- C.T.M. Homecare Product, Inc.
- Drive Medical
- EASE Seating System
- Graham Field/Everest & Jennings
- GeckoSystems International
- Meyra Power Wheelchairs
- Nissin/Colours Wheelchair
- Nordic Capital Fund VII/Handicare
- Otto Bock
- Pride Wheelchairs
- Revolution Mobility
- Sunrise Medical
- The Scooter Store
- Whirlwind Wheelchair International
It’s hard to find an aspect of life that is not touched in some way by technology. For people with disabilities, technological advances offer opportunities for inclusion in every aspect of life – home, school, work, and play. Assistive technology breaks down the barriers that include activity limitations and participation restriction. These advances form the nerve center of the disability movement – equal opportunity.