Picking the perfect motorised wheelchair

Motorised or power wheelchairs come in different forms and sizes, and with a plethora of options. It is important for wheelchair users to do their research and to consult an occupational therapist before making this big purchase. These are some of the fundamentals to consider.

Powered or motorised wheelchairs, as they are commonly known, come in various styles and sizes, with numerous features, control options, varying speed and battery capacity; and they can either be folded or rigid.

Simon Haifer, managing director of Medop, says that it is important for the user to identify some environmental and functionality specifications in order to make the correct decision when buying a power wheelchair.

He notes: “Powered chairs can be quite costly. It is therefore important to ask the suppliers all the correct questions and get information on the availability, back-up and servicing, as well as spares availability.

“Also, speak to some therapists and community members, because – just like when you buy an unreliable car – breakdowns of your product may lead to many headaches that could have been avoided with a little research.”

The most commonly used wheelchairs are the traditional-style chair and the platform-model power wheelchair. The other important classification is the type of drive wheel equipped with the chair, namely: rear-wheel drive (RWD), front (FWD) or mid-wheel drive (MWD).

Haifer says the factors to be considered include:

• Disability of the user

• Weight, sex and age of the user (these factors may limit the range of products available to the specifc user)

• Funding, as this plays a large role and will determine whether the user travels in the “most clinically appropriate product within the budget constraints”

• The environment in which the power wheelchair is to be used.

Candice Brunsden, sales manager at CE Mobility, explains: “The RWD are better outdoors and at speed, but have the largest turning circle. The FWD and MWD have the smallest turning circle and offer some advantages outdoors when climbing obstacles.”

Since power wheelchairs are equipped with batteries, the battery power is essential. Brunsden notes that the wheelchair user should check amperage of the batteries. “This gives an indication of their potential range – in other words, how far the user can get on one charge.

“The amperage of the control unit and the motor watts are both important to determine the power capacity of the wheelchair,” she adds.

Lastly, the user needs to look at the seating options, controller variations and other customisation possibilities. “This is not a purchase you will be making again in the near future, so be sure you choose correctly the first time,” says Brunsden.

Caroline Rule, an occupational therapist who specialises in driver rehabilitation, stresses that each feature of a motorised wheelchair comes with benefits but, at the same time, it compromises the functionality in another area. “So the buyer needs to carefully weigh up the pros and cons and choose the most suitable option according to their needs,” she advises.

The buyer also needs to consider how the wheelchair is going to be transported. “A folding-frame power chair with removable batteries can usually fit into the boot of a car. A rigid-frame power chair is a lot heavier and will need assistive transport devices such as a wheelchair hoist, ramp or platform lift along with a vehicle large enough to accommodate the chair. The compromise is that the rigid-frame chair provides better postural support and better performance than the folding-frame chair but with reduced versatility for transporting and storage,” she concludes.

South Africans are spoilt for choice when it comes to power wheelchairs! Here are some of the various wheelchairs available. Please contact the manufacturer for a comprehensive list of their offerings, wheelchair specifications and prices. The price and weight of a wheelchair may vary. (double check with the manufacturer before purchasing!) Note that P&G refers to the Penny & Giles controllers.

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