People are often surprised at how many things factor into the purchase of a wheelchair. Not just any wheelchair, the right wheelchair. These mobility assistance devices have come a long way since they first appeared on the world stage during the mid-17th century. Those prototypes were often called “invalid chairs” and while they would certainly be recognizable today they were heavy, overbuilt devices that reflected the materials and construction techniques available at the time. Over the decades and centuries, engineers and medical professionals kept tweaking the design, gradually making them easier to move, easier to maintain and easier to store. The real breakthroughs in wheelchair technology didn’t come until the 20th century however when the electric wheelchair was introduced and new, incredibly durable, lightweight materials became available.
That’s not to say that every one of today’s wheelchairs is an ultra-lightweight wheelchair or state of the art motorized device. Many are, some aren’t. And as with most things in life, the more you’re willing to pay the more you’ll usually get. And besides, motorized wheelchairs are not always what circumstances call for and paying a premium for high tech materials can sometimes just be a waste of money. In this guide then we’re going to take a comprehensive look at all facets of the wheelchair, including materials and features, how to determine the right wheelchair to fulfil your needs and more. We’ll start with a look at the electric wheelchair and then move on from there. Let’s begin.
The Electric Wheelchair
The motorized wheelchair was a major advance and has changed the lives of countless individuals around the world who are no longer housebound until someone comes along to assist them. The electric wheelchair is propelled by a built-in, battery-powered motor and most are able to operate safely outdoors, although weather considerations will certainly limit their outdoor capabilities. There are 3 types of powered wheelchairs:
- Basic – This is what most people think of when they think of powered wheelchairs. The basic powered wheelchair can be used on almost every type of hard, flat surface. It has a comfortable seat, footrests that swing away, perhaps armrests whose height can be adjusted and a joystick. That joystick enables forward and backward control along with the ability to turn left, right or in circles. That’s about it and for most people that’s enough. The most common users of this wheelchair are those who don’t require a lot of adjustments and who may even be able to get themselves around with a manually operated wheelchair.
- Customizable – This type of motorized wheelchair can be modified to meet the specific needs of the user. The control mechanisms can be altered, the array of electronic features can be modified to better serve the particular individual, other controls and accessories can be added that will aid in comfort and provide necessary support in the seat or back. The people who use this type of wheelchair are often those suffering chronic maladies that need special attention when it comes to their posture in the chair and their ability to access controls and use them effectively.
- Extreme Customization – There are those who require extreme modifications in their chair that may include things like the ability to recline or incline, the ability to tilt forward or backwards to aid in mounting or dismounting the chair as well as complete personalization of the controls to accommodate their specific physical needs. Or they may need to take their powered wheelchair over rougher surfaces than some. In which case they might have to change the tires, alter the balance of the chair somewhat or even adjust the powertrain setup.
Essentially the electric wheelchair is intended for those individuals who do not possess the strength necessary to propel themselves about using a manual wheelchair. (Although those facing a lengthy recuperation from an accident or injury may want a powered chair as well just to give their upper body a break now and then). In most cases, those you’ll find in a powered wheelchair are older individuals and/or individuals suffering some chronic medical condition that restricts their mobility.
While some electric wheelchairs are able to handle whatever outdoor terrain they’ll encounter (within reason of course) they may not be well suited to indoor use, as they’ll likely be bulkier than other types of wheelchair. At the same time, there are power chairs that can be folded down and placed in the trunk of a car, although these may not provide robust performance if the terrain gets challenging. Still, others will be ideal for indoor use but may come up short on the sidewalk. Because of this you need to ask yourself a few questions before purchasing a motorized wheelchair for yourself or your loved one:
- Who is using it and why?
- What type of range will be needed?
- Where will they be using it most of the time?
- Can this chair be transported to different locations?
- Can the person get in and out of the chair on their own?
- How much does the person who will be using the chair weigh?
- Are there any narrow confines the chair will need to pass through? And if so, how narrow?
After answering all of these questions you’ll have a much better idea of what type of chair will be right for you or your loved one. You’ll then need to consider the various power train options available. That is, how and where the power from the motor is delivered to the wheels: front wheel drive, rear wheel drive etc.
Different Powertrain Options
- Rear Wheel Drive – Generally considered to be the most stable type of motorized wheelchair the rear wheel drive chair typically has a top speed of around 5 or 6 mph. If they have a weakness it’s that they don’t do a great job when you need to make a really tight turn and if you accelerate too quickly on an incline your front wheels might come off the ground momentarily. Don’t worry though. You won’t tip over backwards because these chairs all have anti-tip tubes in the back to prevent it.
- Front Wheel Drive – As with a front wheel drive car the front wheel drive wheelchair delivers power to the wheels in front of the occupant. Front wheel drive wheelchairs like the Pride Jazzy Elite are typically stable although just a bit slower than the best rear wheel drive chairs. With power going to the front wheels you also need to be a little more careful not to take turns too quickly as things can become unstable. The front wheel drive chair, however, is great for around the house as it usually has a significantly tighter turning radius than the rear wheel drive chair.
- Center Drive – Center or mid-wheel drive wheelchairs typically have a pair of small wheels protruding from the front, another set of small wheels protruding from the rear and a pair of large wheels located in the center of the chair which accept power directly from the motor. Because of this, they have the tightest turning radius of any motorized wheelchair, usually anywhere from 24 to 26 inches. Their top speed is comparable to that of a front wheel drive chair (about 5 mph). While they’re stable and can make tight turns they’re not without their drawbacks. For instance, they’re not great at negotiating steep curb cuts and the small rear wheels can sometimes get caught on uneven terrain.
Other Electric Wheelchair Options
Electric wheelchairs also come in a variety of special configurations that accommodate the needs of specific types of individuals.
- Heavy Duty Wheelchairs – The heavy duty wheelchair like the Golden Compass is designed to accommodate users who weigh up to 650 pounds or more in some cases. Because they’re intended for heavier individuals they’ll have more durable construction from the wheels on up and higher capacity batteries that will deliver the extra power that’s necessary and also provide an extended range when compared to standard wheelchair batteries.
- Pediatric Wheelchairs – Special needs kids have a right to mobility and today’s pediatric wheelchairs provide it. These are state of the art assistive devices that make a fundamental difference in the quality of life experienced by special needs children. Pediatric wheelchairs can typically be customized to meet the requirements of the individual child and they’re available with the same powertrain options (front wheel, rear wheel or mid-wheel drive) as standard powered wheelchairs.
- Standing Powered Wheelchairs – With the standing motorized wheelchair like the Karman XO-505 the seat rises and moves forward while also tilting to a vertical position that brings it in line with the seat back. When the chair has fully raised the occupant is in an upright position, essentially standing. Conversely, they are also capable of lying flat or sitting, lifting and reclining. The standing electric wheelchair is available for both children and adults and is typically utilized by those with MS, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy or polio or those who are paraplegic or quadriplegic.
Seating Options for Powered Wheelchairs
Most motorized wheelchairs will provide the option of swapping out the stock seating system for a customized one. Special needs kids, in particular, will require seating systems that are able to grow with them and most of the better-powered chairs will do just that. Most, but not all. So if you are procuring a motorized wheelchair for your child make sure you select one that has a customizable seating system.
The manual wheelchair is the type of chair most people think of when they think of wheelchairs. The rear wheels on a manual wheelchair are oversized and contain an inner ring that the user grabs ahold of and pushes or pulls to propel the chair forward or backwards. If the occupant of the chair possesses good upper body conditioning they are usually able to move the chair much faster than any motorized chair could hope to go. In fact, specialized versions of the manual wheelchair are used to run marathons. In addition, with some practice, the occupant of a lightweight manual wheelchair can even learn to negotiate stairs and some moderately sized curbs as well.
The manual chair has several advantages over its powered counterpart. It’s more versatile, more portable, potentially faster, definitely lighter, more affordable and more energy efficient. That’s not to say that those who need an electric wheelchair could necessarily opt for a manually operated chair, only to say that the manual chair, even the standing manual wheelchair, is no slouch in its own right. So if you are an individual with a modicum of upper body strength the modern, lightweight wheelchair can be your ticket to life-changing mobility. You can also get manually operated wheelchairs that will accommodate larger individuals of 500 or 600 pounds, though to be sure you’ll need a chair with a reinforced frame.
Types of Manual Wheelchairs
There are 3 fundamental types of manual wheelchairs. Those that are self-propelled (propelled by the user), so-called “Wheelbase” wheelchairs and attendant or transport chairs that are propelled by an assistant.
- Self-propelled Wheelchairs – We’ve covered many of attributes of the self-propelled wheelchair above so we won’t spend any time going back over familiar territory. Suffice to say the self-propelled chair like the Sunrise Medical Breezy can be an invaluable asset to the person in need of mobility assistance who also possesses good upper body strength. One aspect of the manual, self-propelled wheelchair we didn’t cover above is their portability. Almost all self-propelled chairs are folding wheelchairs that fit into the trunk of the car or they’ll have wheels that can be easily removed. In that case, the body of the chair can be folded and placed into the front seat with the wheels placed in the back seat. The person then drives themselves to the desired location, parks, and moves the body of the chair from the front seat to the area outside the driver’s door. They then take the wheels out of the back seat and reattach them to the chair and then transfer themselves from the driver’s seat to the wheelchair.
- Wheelbase Wheelchairs – The wheelbase wheelchair is slightly different than other types of lightweight manual wheelchair because the seat is usually customized in some fashion to accommodate the specific postural needs of the occupant. Many individuals who require the assistance of a wheelchair have very particular needs when it comes to their posture and not all standard wheelchairs can accommodate those needs. So they’ll need a custom manual wheelchair like this. They typically have a seat fashioned from padding such as memory foam that adheres to and supports the particular body shape of the individual. The wheelbase chair may also be customized in other ways. One such way is to have its base built to very exacting specifications in order to provide proper balance of the individual. The wheelbase chair may be self-propelled or it may be attendant propelled depending on the abilities of the occupant.
- Attendant Propelled Wheelchairs – The attendant propelled wheelchair looks at first glance very much like the self-propelled chair. But closer inspection reveals one crucial difference: the attendant propelled chair has no additional ring on the large wheels that could be used for self-propulsion. Instead, the chair is propelled solely by the attendant or personal assistant using the handles at the upper rear of the chair.
Attendant propelled chairs such as the Bariatric Transport Wheelchair chair are not just missing the propulsion ring on the large wheels, they often do not have the large wheels at all and instead have 2 sets of smaller wheels; one at the front and one at the back. Because it would be very difficult for an attendant to provide adequate propulsion for an individual who might weight 400 pounds or more, most transport wheelchairs are designed to accommodate up to a maximum of about 250 pounds. Heavier duty transport chairs are available but again the primary reason they are not used is because of practical limits regarding the amount of weight an attendant can safely handle. What follows are a few FAQs regarding the transport wheelchair:
- When are transport wheelchairs most often used? – The transport wheelchair is most often used by individuals and their assistants for trips to the doctor, shopping trips or trips to restaurants or to attend social functions.
- What is the correct size of a transport chair? – Most transport chairs are available in 3 sizes:
- Narrow seats 17” wide for occupants of less than 120 pounds
- Medium seats 19” wide for occupants between 120 and 300 pounds
- Wide seat 22” wide for those individuals who weigh more than 300 pounds
- What are the most important characteristics of a transport wheelchair? – As a general rule, the most important aspects of an adult or pediatric transport wheelchair are that the chair itself be light and well balanced so that it’s easy to push and easy to move in and out of the car and that the seat you choose is the proper width for the occupant.
- Does a lightweight transport wheelchair fold up? – Yes. This type of portable wheelchair is designed to be practical and so the ability to fold up is fundamental to their usefulness.
- Are they comfortable? – Even the best transport wheelchair is not intended to be ‘driven’ long distances by the occupant the way some motorized wheelchairs are. Therefore, while they’re comfortable they’re perhaps not as generously padded as the powered wheelchair.
- What other things should you look for when purchasing an attendant propelled wheelchair? – The best manual wheelchair should have brakes on the rear wheel that are applied easily by way of a foot pedal the attendant presses. (Some types of folding transport wheelchair brakes are applied via a bicycle-style hand grip.) While most armrests on this type of wheelchair are fixed some models do come with removable armrests should you want that option. Also, most attendant powered chairs come with a seat belt and most manufacturers offer an array of accessories including things like cup holders. Which ones you choose will be up to you.
The specific mobility needs, as well as the physical condition of the occupant, will ultimately determine the type of wheelchair you’ll need to procure for yourself or your loved one.
The average self-propelled wheelchair weighs around 40 pounds and can carry up to 250 pounds before the weight becomes problematic. Reinforced chairs capable of carrying up to 600 pounds will weigh 15 or 20 pounds more and larger individuals may not be able to do the type of car to chair transference we described above. At the other end of the spectrum, there are ultra-light manually operated wheelchairs that can weigh as little as 14 or 15 pounds. These are ideal for athletically inclined individuals. Keep in mind also that all self-propelled chairs have anti-tip casters at the rear to prevent the chair from tipping over backwards on inclines.
We’ve all seen them. People at the mall or on the street tooling along on what looks like a wheelchair. Except they’re not technically wheelchairs as we’ve come to know of them (although they certainly have wheels and a chair). In some ways, they look like a miniature car with 4 widely spaced wheels and what looks like a driver’s seat. But they’re not that either. They’re actually “mobility scooters” (although you probably knew that) and they’re a kind of portable electric wheelchair that is the fastest growing sector of the mobility device market.
The mobility scooter combines the motor of the average motorized wheelchair with the small(ish) wheels of the more lightweight transport wheelchair, the handlebars of the motorbike and seats that will often give your recliner a run for its money. As a result, they’re comfortable, convenient, stable and can be used by people with a wide variety of mobility issues. Still, there are a number of things you’ll need to take into consideration before you decide to purchase an electric scooter for yourself or your loved one. Below we look at the various features of the electric scooter, those things you’ll want to look for and the advantages and potential disadvantages. Let’s start with advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages of Mobility Scooters
Obviously, the primary advantage of the electric scooter for adults is that it helps those with limited mobility regain some semblance of independence. Here are some of the other advantages of owning an electric scooter:
- You’ll save energy – It’s far less tiring than propelling yourself around all day using a standard wheelchair.
- You’ll save money – It saves money in the long run over having a paid assistant pushing your chair for you.
- They have a greater range – They typically travel 2 or 3 times as far as a regular folding electric wheelchair.
- They’re accepted – They are widely accepted in shopping malls, supermarkets and other public places.
- They have better batteries – When compared to the battery in a standard motorized wheelchair the batteries can be several times more powerful.
- Easier to shop with – You can easily carry groceries or other items you pick up while shopping.
- No slipping downhill – You won’t have to worry about your arms being overwhelmed going up a hill.
- Real independence – When the weather is good you don’t have to rely on public transportation.
- They’re affordable – They don’t cost a lot more than standard powered wheelchairs.
- Save your joints – It saves wear and tear on the elbow and particularly the shoulder joint when compared to a standard wheelchair.
- They lock up tight – Mobility scooters are typically started with a key. So you can safely leave it outside a store while you go in and you don’t have to worry it will be stolen.
Disadvantages or Limitations
While all the above advantages are real and significant motor scooters are still not for everyone as there are certain drawbacks – or at least limitations – to them. Those include:
- Some mobility required – If you don’t have at least some level of self-mobility you won’t be able to mount and dismount your electric scooter. Hence they are not for those with serious chronic maladies like advanced cerebral palsy or those who may be paraplegic.
- Not for those with posture issues – In order to sit comfortably in a power scooter seat and operate the device using the handlebar setup the user needs to able to sit more or less upright in a more or less “normal” fashion. This is simply not possible for everyone.
- They don’t turn very tight – Compared to something like a center-wheel powered wheelchair the turning radius of the electric scooter is enormous. So it’s typically not a good match for around your home where space is often at a minimum.
- They’re heavy – Some mobility scooters are the size of a small golf cart (some even have 2 seats) so if you’re out and about in one of the larger mobility scooters and it breaks down for some reason it’s going to be a hassle to get it home somehow.
Believe it or not, as mobility scooters have become more popular they’ve raised a number of legal issues. Primary among these is whether or not scooters are allowed on the road. The short answer is that they are not. Quirks in legal interpretations mean that in most places a person on an electric scooter is classified as a pedestrian. Which means that like all other pedestrians they are not allowed on the road surface except at crosswalks or in designated pedestrian-only zones. At the same time, however, there is an increasing number of people complaining about the presence of motor scooters on the sidewalk. And a spate of accidents between scooters and people walking on the sidewalk has resulted in confusion over who has the right of way and how fast scooters should be allowed to travel on the sidewalk. It’s an issue that is still evolving but you would do well to inquire with your local city government about any regulations regarding the operation of mobility scooters in your city or town.
Motorized Scooter Features
Now that we have a better idea of the advantages and disadvantages of mobility scooters let’s look at some common features and characteristics of this type of mobility assistive device:
- The Wheels – All wheelchairs and mobility scooters have wheels of course but they don’t all have the same type of wheels. In addition, whereas virtually all wheelchairs – powered or otherwise – have at least 4 wheels (except some competition-ready chairs that have 3 and center-drive wheelchairs that have 6) there are quite a few motor scooters that have 3 wheels and look very much like motorbikes with fancy seats. These 3 wheel designs are intended to narrow the turning radius of the chair and they do a great job of that. At the same time though you need to be sure you don’t take that tight turn too fast. 4 wheeled chairs are by far the most stable and it would take a lot to tip them over. So if stability is a primary concern of yours you should opt for the 4 wheeled scooters without a doubt.
- Drivetrain – Like powered wheelchairs mobility scooters are available with either front or rear wheel drive (sorry, no center-drive capability). Front wheel drive scooters aren’t really intended to be used outdoors, although that doesn’t stop some folks from doing just that. It’s not that it would be especially dangerous to operate one outdoors it’s that they aren’t always as powerful as their rear wheel counterparts, nor are they as stable. So riding on a rough surface outside the operator would need to use extra caution. Rear wheel drive mobility scooters, on the other hand, are built for the great outdoors. They’re a little faster and typically a little heavier which – along with the 4 wheel layout – aids in stability. The upper end of the weight spectrum on a three-wheel scooter is usually around 250 pounds while with the 4 wheel scooter it can be nearly 500 pounds.
- Seat – One of the most visible characteristics of the electric scooter, one that sets it apart right away from the typical motorized wheelchair, is the seat. Motorized scooter seats tend to be large, well-upholstered items that look more like an expensive recliner than a wheelchair seat. Even the smaller electric scooter seats are typically well padded and comfortable and many feature a comfortable headrest as well. In most cases, the seat on a power scooter will swivel to allow the occupant to mount and dismount the scooter with as little effort as possible. With many seats, you can adjust the height as well and there is an increasing number that allows you to slide the seat forward or backwards to find the perfect relationship to the handlebars. In addition, a good number of scooter seats will tilt for maximum comfort. Before buying a motorized scooter take all these options into consideration and then find the scooter that offers what you need.
- Controls – With almost all mobility scooters controls can be found on the handlebars. To be sure these aren’t luxury automobiles we’re talking about so the number and type of controls will be limited. Most are finger or thumb operated. As a general rule, the right-hand controls forward motion and speed and the left-hand controls reverse motion and speed. If you are left-handed it’s useful to know that some manufacturers offer models with the controls flipped so you can operate your scooter in a more intuitive manner.
- Handlebars and Tiller – Speaking of handlebars; the handlebars are located at the top of what is called the “tiller”. That’s the post that rises from the center front of the scooter, as you can see here. The tiller is adjustable on some mobility scooters in that it can be tilted forward or backwards so that you can get the most comfortable grip. If you have a seat that slides forward and backwards the tilting handlebars aren’t such a necessity. At the same time though having both a sliding seat and an adjustable tiller will allow you to fine-tune your relationship to the handlebars to a high degree of comfort. So check whether the scooter you have your eye on has an adjustable tiller. It can make a big difference.
- Brakes – An electric scooter without brakes is of no more use than a car without brakes. Thankfully, with mobility scooters, you don’t have to reach out and press a brake pedal. The brake is always on while the scooter is at rest, disengages when you put the scooter in drive and then re-engages automatically when you release the controls. With some of the larger, more deluxe motor scooters there is an emergency brake that can be engaged should the standard braking mechanism fail for some reason (something that almost never happens). Some scooters also have ‘neutral’ which works the same way as it does in a car. Basically, you put the scooter in neutral and you can push it or pull it around to your heart’s content. Handy for parking etc.
- The Battery – The power source for most mobility scooters is the 12-volt battery. Exactly how much runtime you’ll get from that 12-volt battery will depend on the amp-hour rating. Less expensive batteries typically used in scooters meant for around the house might be rated for 12Ah, while the more deluxe scooters intended to get you to the mall and back without breaking a sweat might be rated to 75Ah. Roughly translated that’s about 15-20 hours of runtime before it needs to be recharged. Always check the amp-hours on the electric scooter battery before purchasing to make sure it dovetails with how you intend to use the scooter. You don’t want to be caught with a dead battery halfway to the mall.
Mobility scooters come in a variety of sizes. Some will be like a collapsible wheelchair and will fit into the trunk of the car while others will need their own parking space. Here is a basic rundown of the various electric scooter for adults sizes.
- Trunk Scooters – Called “boot scooters” in the UK these mobility scooters got their name from the fact that, with a minimum amount of breakdown, they’ll fit into the trunk (boot) of your car. This type of scooter is much sought after by those who are able to drive (or who have someone drive them) and then need the scooter to find their way around the supermarket without wearing themselves down. Elderly individuals without serious medical conditions often use this type of scooter to help them maintain their well-established routines. Beware that the boot scooter will typically have a small battery, so don’t try and do too much with it.
- Mid-Sized Scooters – The mid-sized scooter, like the Pride Go-Go, is the most popular form of scooter because it provides size without excess bulk, a good enough range to get you to the mall and back and enough carrying capacity that you can load it up with groceries with no problem. They tend to be stable and comfortable as well as affordable. Unless a person has some specific reason to purchase something larger the mid-sized scooter will fulfil most people’s needs. Just don’t expect to get them into the trunk.
- Deluxe or “Town and Country” Scooters – The high end of the scooter spectrum is occupied by the deluxe scooter, like the Golden Avenger. These are often called Town and Country scooters and you’ll never get one in your trunk. But then again they are so powerful, comfortable and feature-rich that you probably won’t be thinking about your car very much. These scooters are physically large and heavy although part of that weight is the larger engine and battery that combine to kick out about 8 mph on the flats. These scooters are ideal for those who go out a lot and need a scooter that’s powerful, dependable, stable and comfortable.
Mobility scooters can make all the difference in the life of the individual who is not seriously disabled but is not capable of enduring the rigours of long stretches on their feet at the mall or the supermarket either. They can allow such a person to maintain their long-held routines and stay engaged in their life.
A bathroom wheelchair is another type of portable wheelchair that allows the occupant to use the bathroom facilities – toilet and shower – without having to transfer. They can make a huge difference in a person’s quality of life, allowing them to go through the motions of a normal daily routine without having to ask for assistance. However, because of the unique environment of the bathroom, the bathroom wheelchair needs to be engineered slightly differently than the standard manual wheelchair you would use outdoors. Below we’ll go into some of the things you’ll need to consider before purchasing a bathroom wheelchair for yourself or your loved one.
- Build Quality – It’s hard to say that one aspect of the bathroom wheelchair is necessarily more important than any other aspect but if your bathroom wheelchair isn’t as well constructed as saying the Multichair Manual bathroom chair then you’re bathroom experience is going to be awkward and uncomfortable at best and downright hazardous at worst. Discount bathroom chairs will corrode under the onslaught of water, or water will penetrate the seat cushion making it a comfort nightmare. Within a few short weeks, you’re likely to be squeaking and squawking your way to the commode. You’ll want to look closely at the design of the chair. Is it practical? Does it slip easily over most modern toilets? Is it too high to be practical? Are the footrests comfortable? Will the wheels slip and slide on a wet tile floor? Can you easily reach out and operate the shower controls? On top of all that the bathroom wheelchair needs to be easy to clean and should be able to navigate tight corners. It should also have solid tires so there’s no possibility of a flat and it should have at least a one-year limited warranty. Just in case something goes wrong.
- Safety – Right up there on the list of concerns with build quality (and closely related as well) is the issue of safety. For people with compromised mobility, the bathroom can be the most dangerous room in the house. And that’s true whether you enter it on foot on in a wheelchair. Your bathroom wheelchair as we said should be able to navigate tight corners and get into tight spaces (like most shower stalls). If you are struggling to get into or out of the shower stall or struggling to manoeuvre once inside the stall then you are placing yourself in a compromised position that could lead to a misstep and injury. Keep in mind that even small injuries can have a cascading effect and lead to much larger problems, so any type of injury is to be avoided at all cost.
One of the best ways to ensure no one gets hurt is to make sure your bathroom wheelchair is as stable as possible. That means it should be well proportioned between the size of the footprint and the height. This produces a good balance that will allow you to stay upright at all times. Another safety consideration is the braking mechanism. Is it easy to engage the brakes and do they seem like they’ll stay engaged no matter how wet and soapy things may get? Remember you’re going to be moving while you’re in the shower and you don’t want your chair to be moving with you all the time. In addition, once you leave the shower stall you don’t want the tires sliding all over the place either so make sure your tires are made of a slip-resistant material.
- Portability – Plenty of folks who use mobility assistive devices like bathroom wheelchairs are active people who work and travel quite a bit. As such it’s important that their bathroom wheelchair is easy to transport either in the car, on a train or on a plane. It should break down to an easily manageable size, be a lightweight wheelchair and be able to fit through the kind of narrow shower openings you’ll encounter in hotels. At the same time, it needs to be sturdy as all get out because baggage handlers aren’t known for their gentle way and you can count on your bathroom wheelchair getting bounced around in the trunk as well. Once you reach your destination you want to be sure the bathroom wheelchair will be easy to reassemble too. It shouldn’t require any unique tools to put back together; which is a process that should only take a few minutes.
- Overall Comfort – Your bathroom wheelchair should be comfortable regardless of whether you are using it in conjunction with the toilet or you’re showering while sitting in it or you’re drying off after the shower. The seat cushions should not absorb water, you shouldn’t ever feel like you’re slipping off the seat or that your arms are slipping off the armrests and the footrests should be conveniently located and comfortable as well. That’s a lot to ask of a humble wheelchair but that’s why the people who design and engineer these things make such handsome livings. They know what they’re doing.
- Maintenance and Cleaning – As with any type of mechanical device the more complicated the construction, the more moving parts and features, the more difficult it will be to maintain. So any good bathroom wheelchair is going to aim for simplicity in design. Because the main activities you’ll be engaged in while using this type of chair are health and hygiene-related you’re going to have to make sure the chair is kept clean and in good working order. If you don’t clean the chair regularly you’ll be sitting in a dirty chair while showering and there is also likely to be bacteria on the chair that has splashed up from the toilet that could present a health hazard as well. So cleaning the bathroom wheelchair is something that should be done regularly and it should be easy to do.
When it comes to maintenance you’ll want to buy a chair that will require as little as possible and that is usually accomplished by purchasing one made of high-quality materials. Stainless steel, anodized aluminium, even PVC will all withstand the harsh environment of the bathroom in general and the shower in particular so look for chairs that are made using those materials. Also, look at the way the various parts of the framework are held together. Are they welded or are they bolted together? Using 3rd party fasteners to hold segments of the frame together will likely leave room for water to get inside the frame and cause all kinds of problems from rust to the promotion of mould and bacterial growth.
To Sum Up
There are a lot of things to consider before you purchase a bathroom wheelchair for yourself or your loved one. Trying to keep it all straight and upfront can be a challenge, so below we’re going to provide the capsule version of things to look for when buying a bathroom wheelchair.
Any good bathroom wheelchair will have most or all of the following features:
- It must be waterproof – No ifs ands or buts about this one. The bathroom is the rainforest of your house and the bathroom wheelchair needs to be built to thrive there.
- It must be compact – This is especially true if you plan to take your bathroom wheelchair travelling with you where you have no way to know what type of logistical challenges you’ll face.
- It must be lightweight – You don’t want to be physically straining to move the wheelchair about the bathroom. Showering should not be a bigger chore than it needs to be.
- It should have flip-up footrests – These make getting in and out of the chair a lot easier for some people while others may not need them.
- It should be portable – Essential if you travel and need to take the chair with you. It should break down quickly and reassemble just as quickly and easily.
- It should be comfortable – You don’t want to be feeling confined or insecure while showering in your bathroom wheelchair.
- I must be easy to maintain – This is another ‘must’. Your chair needs to be clean or it can actually turn out to be a health hazard. It also needs to be easy to fix if something goes wrong.
Fitting Yourself for Your Bathroom Wheelchair
Fit is important when it comes to a bathroom wheelchair because you don’t want to have too much or too little leeway in the seat while you’re on the commode or in the shower. If the chair is too small for you, you’re going to have a hard time reaching everywhere and getting yourself thoroughly clean and if the chair is too big you run the risk of slipping out of it while manoeuvring in the shower or having an unpleasant experience on the commode. So, how do you ensure a proper fit for your bathroom wheelchair? By keeping in mind these 4 measurements:
- Length of your back – Have someone measure the length of your back. This will help you find a chair with the proper size backrest.
- Width of the hips – You will use this measurement to make sure you get a seat that is the right width.
- Length of the thighs – Use this measurement to determine how deep the seat should be.
- Length of shins – This measurement is used to determine how high the seat should be from the floor and where the leg rests should be located.
All this information can be obtained by having the person who will be using the wheelchair sit in a rigid chair with little or no padding (like a kitchen chair) while another person gets the measurements. It should take about 2 minutes and will allow you to make sure you buy just the right bathroom wheelchair to fit your body or that of your loved one.
When it comes to wheelchair storage – whether around the house, in the trunk of the car or when travelling – a general rule would be the more compact-able the better. If you’re never taking a certain chair out of the house then it doesn’t matter but if you regularly take it with you in the car or when you travel for pleasure or business then how light and foldable it is will very much matter. In most cases standard, manually propelled wheelchairs will break down easily and quickly and store just as easily in the trunk. They can also be folded up to stay out of the way in the hotel room or on the train. When you’re talking about the electric wheelchair, however, (whether those are standard motorized chairs or mobility scooters) you’re going to gain much in comfort and ease of use but you’re often going to lose the ability to fold the chair up as small as you want, which makes transporting it a chore. Also, remember that weight will be a consideration when it comes to storage. You don’t want someone straining their back lifting the chair in or out of the truck.
The wheelchair has come a long way over the past 400 years and each passing year seems to bring new breakthroughs in materials and technology. We hope you found this guide helpful and don’t forget to check out bestmotorizedwheelchair.com for all the latest and best wheelchairs at great prices.