Welcome back to another Mobility Monday!
This week I wanted to talk a bit about the types of wheelchairs that exist on the mobility market. Before I became disabled to the point of needing an extra level of mobility aid, I didn’t fully comprehend the sheer amount of options available to pick from. This may sound like a good thing but if you’re unsure of what you need, it can be extremely overwhelming. There’s also an awful lot of inappropriate or unsafe products flooding the market now on places such as Amazon and eBay which seem like a good deal but in reality are far from it.
I assumed I’d be able to use a self-propelled wheelchair. How wrong I was! Self-propelled wheelchairs are the archetypal model most associated with disability. They have large back wheels with grab rails, which the user controls with their hands by pushing/spinning them around. Some have handles or a bar at the top back in case the user needs some assistance.
Attendant-propelled wheelchairs are controlled by a person other than the person using the ‘chair. These have smaller front and back wheels, with handles or a bar at the top back to help the assistant control the wheelchair. Sometimes these ‘chairs have batteries to help give an extra boost of power for the person pushing.
Travel wheelchairs are usually modelled after the attendant-propelled design but have lighter frames and materials, usually with the ability to half-fold to make transporting and storing the ‘chair a little easier.
Then we have the powered or electric wheelchair, which is the type I use. They have larger back wheels but not as large as the self-propelled styles. They are usually controlled with a small directional stick mounted to a control panel. Speed is usually controlled by a + and – button with a lit dial to keep track of how fast or slow you prefer to go. They are powered by batteries which need charging and are usually good in most indoor and outdoor settings. Most have handles or a bar again at the top back for an assistant if needed.
I had to use an attendant-propelled wheelchair first, which was kindly loaned to me in a desperate time so I could actually attend my PIP appointment. It worked fine but I hated not being in main control of my mobility. I found it scary being pushed down ramps or uneven surfaces. My husband found it difficult to control, It definitely was not a comfortable experience for me, especially being in chronic and severe pain. As I mentioned earlier, I thought I’d be able to use a self-propelled wheelchair absolutely fine. It was the vision of a wheelchair I had in my head and I assumed it’d be pretty easy to control and navigate. However, upon trying one in a local mobility shop to see if it was worth renting until my NHS wheelchair was delivered, I quickly realised I had no chance of being able to get around in one. I could barely push myself on the smooth, flat floor of the shop due to my lax joints. My shoulder was almost immediately in acute pain and my index finger joint came out of place.
Once you’ve worked out the specific type of wheelchair that’s best for you, you then have to pick from the many different types in that category. This is where the choice can become overwhelming, at least, it did for me. I was still looking to rent a wheelchair until my NHS one came along and relied mainly on people within mobility shops advising me what was the best option. I quickly realised though that most of the time, this was the best option for their shop, not for me or their customers. It became clear that a lot of the people we spoke with didn’t have a true understanding of what they were selling and renting. Simple things like weight restrictions and kerb climbing were completely overlooked for a quick sale. I ended up renting a powerchair which was pretty unsuitable for me. The company then tried to charge me another week of rent because their delivery drivers didn’t turn up to pick it up on the specified day and then couldn’t re-schedule for another 7 days… but that’s a whole other story.
What I have discovered in my 5 years as a full-time wheelchair user are a few key points to think about if you’re buying or renting a wheelchair privately:
Consider your weight, size and your own personal abilities within mobility. How is your strength? Posture? Do your legs feel better in separate leg supports or a joined footplate? Where will you be using your wheelchair and how long for? Will the inside of your house be suitable for wheelchair use? (remember to measure door frame widths and corridors from the radiators outwards rather than wall to wall). What is the turning circle of the wheelchair like? If you will need the wheelchair outside too, consider how it performs on uneven surfaces, inclines/declines and kerbs. Will you need to transport the wheelchair anywhere in a car?
Most importantly, once you’ve had a think on those things, do your research. Find a company you trust. Take your time and don’t be forced into a ‘good deal’ with a limited time frame. I found Lith-Tech through a word of mouth recommendation and now I understand why those people were singing their praises. The level of customer care, compassion and knowledge they held compared to most of the high street mobility centres we visited when looking 5 years ago was above and beyond. After researching, I knew what I wanted and needed. They knew what they could offer me and not to pressure me. They were also very open with their opinions on some of the underhanded techniques sometimes used within the mobility industry to sell clearly unsuitable aids to people, just to keep that profit coming in.
I’ve mentioned this before on my blog and I do understand it’s the way of big business to make money but if more companies stepped up and became responsible, genuine and honest providers like Lith-Tech then the world for disabled people would be a much safer and happier one. It’s not a throw away or decorative purchase (not that it’s even OK to be blasé about those). Wheelchairs are expensive, life-changing pieces of apparatus and the selling of them should be treated as such.
I hope this post can help if you’re thinking of looking to rent or purchase a wheelchair for yourself or someone you know. It would be silly of me to say it’s not a lot of work. It is. However when you find the right wheelchair for you, from the right company, it really is an awesome feeling.