I felt it was time to discuss power wheelchairs. I bought mine in 2019 after I saw a benefit to using a transport chair over a rollator when out in public. Basically I was able to spend as much time in a store as before I was diagnosed. The transport chair had a big drawback – I was at the mercy of someone – usually my kids – to push me *AND* not leave me in a corner or aisle while they go elsewhere. You see, a transport chair does not have a way for the rider to move the chair. Yes, I was left in store aisles while my sons found aisles more interesting than craft paints. I was parked out of the way once when the desired section of a store was too crowded for me and the pusher to browse. I felt bad when my adult daughter ran-pushed me the whole length of a large outlet mall back to the car. This mall was large enough to have 11 ‘neighborhoods’. I also knew getting pushed through an upcoming college orientation was a no-go.
I explored the options online and quickly realized I needed to try out different models at a trusted location. My Dad had a great (read very patient and wonderful customer service) experience with a store near my sister dealing with a recliner that lifts you to standing. I checked them out online and saw they carried scooters and power chairs. So, I made an appointment and my kids and I visited Comfort Medical. The kids had all been my transport chair pushers and wanted to see the power options too. Yes, they tried out a few.
My purpose was to give me more independent wheelchair use. So, I tried out scooters and power wheelchairs. I discussed the various pros and cons of each type with a salesperson. I also had to consider how I would haul the device with my then 2 month old mid size SUV. My biggest concern was to not obstruct my rear view camera or back up obstacle sensor. That meant whatever I bought needed to fit into my vehicle. I was not sure those ‘attach to the back’ lifts would fit into my garage either. Some will fold against the vehicle when not in use. I was getting around the house well with a rollator/cane so the power option was for out and about. This meant the power mobility device was going to remain with the vehicle. A lift arm can be installed inside some vehicles to lift and swing/drag the device into the rear cargo area.
I decided that a power chair that broke down into manageable parts for lifting (for an able bodied person) would be the device type and my rear cargo area would be the store/haul location. I was convinced I could use the lift arm to move the whole chair in and out of the SUV. Ha!
OK, so what do you need to know about power chairs when you are making your selection?
- How comfortable is the seat?
- Do you need the power/speed/steering controls on a specific side? If so, can the controls be on that side?
- What is the battery charge max distance and max time? Know that a larger weight will require more power and will reduce the experienced max distance/time. The terrain is also a factor.
- How easy could you quickly charge the battery(s)? I have charged mine in restaurants, stores, a church, a YMCA hallway, a veterinarian lobby, a park, and even while it sat in my car in my garage.
- What surfaces do you plan to ride on?
- How does it ride over floor transitions? Take it over a bump or two in the store. If possible, ride it up and down a ramp, a concrete sidewalk, a little of the parking lot. See number 15 for more details.
- How does it handle ramps? I wish I could say all ramps are created equal, but they aren’t.
- What is the max speed? Average walking speed is 3 to 4 miles per hour or 5 km per hour. Don’t count on chasing down a toddler.
- What is the turning radius? This will reduce the 3 point turns, having to overshoot to find enough turn around space, and control some of the tighter corners you can make.
- How wide is the power chair? Mine is 24 inches and that can be tight for some hall corner doorways.
- Are the arm heights adjustable or swing up or already fit under tables? I have to swing up my controller arm to sit close enough to a table.
- Does the chair lock into an EZLock (http://www.ezlock.net/) or Q Lock (https://www.qstraint.com/; compatibility check: http://brackets.qstraint.com/ ) so it can be in the driver position in a wheelchair accessible vehicle? Check. My power chair is not compatible. Why not? The QStraint list says it does not recommend ‘portable’ chairs. I am now in the process to buy a compatible chair. Errr.
- How easy is it to change the chair between brake/drive mode and pushable mode. My chair has a leaver just under the back bottom. It is not easy to see or change – even for able body people. Push mode allows sliding the chair into place from a standing position.
- How easy is it to move and keep the foot rest out of the way? Move it several times from sitting in the chair and not. Did it loosen?
- Driving wheel position and suspension described well: https://hub.permobil.com/blog/power-wheelchair-suspension-what-you-need-to-know
- All things wheelchair: https://www.spinlife.com/
Are there any details I missed? Wheelchair use tips? They are coming soon. As I mentioned, I am power chair shopping, again. I plan to review my current chair: Golden Technologies LiteRider Envy. After I use my next chair a bit I will post a review. In between I will share my wheelchair vehicle shopping experience.