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Picking the right wheelchair

CommunityAdminCommunityAdmin Posts: 18Administrator Reeve Staff
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Wheelchair 101: People are not “confined” to their wheelchairs -- they are in fact liberated by their wheels. A person with paralysis can get around as quickly in a wheelchair as anyone else can walking. A wheelchair offers people access to work and shopping or any other travel outside the home.

In some ways a wheelchair is like a bicycle: There are many designs and styles to choose from including imports, lightweights, racing models, etc.

The chair is also like a pair of shoes -- there are distinct styles for special purposes, such as tennis or rugged trail use. If the fit isn't just right the user can't get comfortable and therefore can't achieve maximum function.

Selecting the right chair, especially for a first-time wheelchair user, can be confusing. It's always a good idea to work with an occupational therapist (OT) who has experience with various kinds of wheelchairs.

Check out the full article.


  • CruckerCrucker Posts: 65Moderator Moderator
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    This is a test response from a deemed moderator, A. Rucker. I don't really have anything to add to the extremely thorough review of wheelchairs above, except to say that I am presently completely frustrated in trying to get a replacement chair from Medicare. I think it's my vender's fault, not Medicare, but I am currently caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare. But you don't want moderators to bitch and moan, right? I'll try to be more useful in the futures. AR

  • iamdadmaniamdadman Posts: 190Moderator Moderator
    100 Likes 100 Comments 25 Awesomes First Anniversary
    Being properly fitted for your wheelchair is of the utmost importance.  I speak from experience.  My first chair was not fitted to me properly and as a result, it created posture issues for me.  I would recommend talking with other people in the SCI community to see how pleased they are with the fit of their chair.  Find out who they worked with, what was the procedure, how many years of experience, etc.  I am getting ready to get my first chair using Medicare plus a supplemental insurance.  It is safe to say that Medicare has a very specific procedure and guidelines for purchasing a new chair.  I even called Medicare and found out they approve a new chair every five years based on medical necessity.  Anything other than equipment that is medically necessary means that Medicare will not pay ANYTHING!.  I confirmed this by speaking to a representative at Medicare.  The comments about our wheelchairs liberating us is very true but only if they are properly fitted.
  • EmmsEmms Posts: 37Member ✭✭
    10 Comments 5 Awesomes 5 Likes Name Dropper
    edited February 2019
    In the UK, we have a few options. We are referred to a local 'Wheelchair services' department who give an option of a chair owned and maintained by themselves called the Partnership Option,  or you can choose an 'Independent Option' which is 'voucher' towards the privately funded chair of your choice using an agreed supplier.  This service is postcoded and not all counties offer the same 'nhs' chair or amount of monies for the prescription category you're given. In some counties, there is no independent option funding at all. 
    Wheelchair service vouchers and chairs are normally offered every 5 years unless your prescription has changed enough to deem a new prescription necessary. 
    Going with a privately funded chair opens up the 'chair world', although as one may already know, chairs are costly!
    The current NHS chair for an active user requiring a lightweight, fixed frame, hand propelled wheelchair in most counties in the UK is the Quickie Argon from Sunrise Medical. Extras such as Spinergy wheels instead the the supplied wheels or the Jay Backrest can be added at the users cost when ordering with your Wheelchair assessor. The Quickie Argon2 has an average weight of 9.9kg, with a base price in the UK of £1200. The chair up from the Argon2, the Helium, averages 6.4kg with a base price of £2000. Chairs tend to be pricier the lighter they are. There are chairs with a carry weight of 2.1KG on the market at the present time, with a base price of £6000,  Manual chairs really can can cost anywhere between £1000 and £6000+ with added accessories such as lightweight wheels and shaped backrests. 

    When going with Partnership or the Independent option, the therapists at wheelchair services will measure you for the chair. For the independent option, you will be sent away with your *prescription* measurements to give to the wheelchair manufacturer/retailer. If you're going to a custom frame builder like RGK/Draft wheelchairs/Lashersport etc they will measure in more depth to get the frame to suit you and your everyday needs.

    Access to work is a government scheme which gives funding to those in employed or self-employed paid work and those about to start or return to one. The scheme can give grants up to £59,200 towards the cost of workplace adaptations, assistive technology, transport and interpreters. This includes high end wheelchairs and specialist wheelchairs and accessories like standing wheelchairs, smart drive motorised add ons, spare wheels etc.  You just need to send them a few quotes for the equipment you want when you apply. 

    Over the years, you get accustomed to what measurements and materials work for you, including details like your personal preference on the centre of gravity, backrest height, tapering on the the front of the frame etc. Choices of aluminium, titanium, carbon fibre and magnesium alloys for the majority. Some of these, like centre of gravity, are easier to adjust on factory made frames with camber tubes that allow for change forwards and backwards, adjustable footrest heights, and some allowing you to change the bucket of the seating. Some chairs allow for these measurements to be completely fixed allowing for a completely custom made frame to be welded shut to give a sturdier lighter chair. 
    Chairs made from Carbon Fibre can not easily be fixed if cracked. One piece carbon chairs such as the the incredibly light Panthera X will be a right off if you break it. Most titanium chairs that break would need to go back to the manufacturer to be fixed unless you can find someone willing, or rather with the right set up for welding titanium. Aluminium is easy for anyone with experience to weld. It can be taken to a local welder to fix if out of warranty. 
    I've had 8 frames in 22 years. I have broken a 3 month old cantilever carbon fibre frame, then both of the Xcore carbon wheels I bought to go with it. I have never broken a Spinergy wheel, only popped spokes. I know I wouldn't choose the lovely lightweight Topolino wheels as I'd fear for their certain death, and the price tag of replacing half sides of carbon wheels instead of single spokes. I always have a a few spare spinergy spokes in my toolbag. I have cracked every cantilever style frame I've had, Tilite, Topend, Quickie, one custom titanium, and non were apparently able to be fixed under warranty. Although one chair frame was crushed by an airline which when they paid out, I had a custom chair built to fit in an overhead locker for a holiday chair! 
    My current frame, I decided to learn from all my past chairs and opt for longevity. I hate getting used to new chairs, however similar you try to get them, they are never the same. I wanted a chair I could have for years and years. I went for a custom RGK aluminium, rigid, non cantilever, completely welded shut frame. A Tiga. The only things that come off are the back wheels and the front forks. This chair can be welded up locally if needed. It can be shot blasted and anodised or laquered to keep it looking nice every few years. So far the manufacturers have welded a new foot plate in for me as I cracked the first one within 6 months. They welded a double tubed one in, which 3 years later hasn't cracked. Decide how tough you are on your frames what you think you'll be doing with them. Before choosing the material/tubing and frame type, if you did break it, how easy is it to be fixed? :)

    “Inhale the future. Exhale the past.”

  • Monica.TMonica.T Posts: 105Member ✭✭
    25 Likes 10 Comments 5 Awesomes Photogenic
    edited April 2019

    My son is 65 inches 'tall' and 129lbs, IOW interviewed us for a Quickie2 that was supposed to be blue with a ROHO cushion but instead delivered a  black ZippyGS that didn't have the back or cushion we were originally shown and was not transport ready. We knew nothing about wheelchairs , except that Charlie's knees were up in the air and he couldn't sit right in it. When I looked it up online I learned the Zippy is a pediatric chair! When I contacted IOW they said "Don't worry the Zippy has a growth pan" . Months later when the wheelchair tech came back out to adjust the chair he said the chair was already adjusted to it's fullest growth point. When I called IOW about that, all of a sudden they stopped returning my calls, after months and months I called the main office and complained and was basically told "Insurance has already paid, and they won't pay for another chair for five years". I haven't heard back from them since. So we are stuck with a chair that my son's legs are to long for, that he can't sit in comfortably and can only tolerate sitting in it for no more than 3 hours before it causes muscle spasms.  And the hard cushion in the Zippy has already caused pressure sores and skin sheer. A couple weeks ago I found him a used ROHO cushion and so far it seems to be working much better for him. Charlie has an office chair with arms and caster wheels that he sits in at home, wish I could turn it into a wheelchair because he has no issues sitting in it.

    *See update below*

  • Monica.TMonica.T Posts: 105Member ✭✭
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    Bought a used Quickie frame - had N-M to adjust it for Charlie and put wheels on it. Look who is sitting without his knees up to high now. (sitting with his knees above his waist line created posture issues and put to much pressure on his sitting bones) / the chair is a bit too wide for him, but he sits so much better in it. Also his feet are down, instead of sticking outward like they did in the zippie. Charlie is just to big for a pediatric chair like the zippie, he sits so much more comfortably in the Quickie. We also love the way the arm-rests turn back out of the way on this one for easier transfers.
  • iamdadmaniamdadman Posts: 190Moderator Moderator
    100 Likes 100 Comments 25 Awesomes First Anniversary
    Having a properly fitted wheelchair is critical.  Coincidentally, I was just fitted yesterday for a new chair.  The first time around, the chair they put me in was horrible.  It created posture issues that remain to this day but that we are slowly working on.  I am going with a Ti-lite TR-4 titanium chair with a fixed frame.  I have so much confidence in my current PT and the lady we dealt with at Numotion really knew her stuff as well.  We were there for almost three hours and I had to make too many transfers.  I was beat up.  Monica, have you ever heard of HelpHopeLive?  They are a non-profit for people who have traumatic injuries.  They help you do fund raising and you can set up a page on their website for donations.  I have raised a lot of money using their page.  It helped pay for equipment and therapies that were not covered by insurance.  You can find their page at helphopelive.org.  you might want to check them out.
  • Monica.TMonica.T Posts: 105Member ✭✭
    25 Likes 10 Comments 5 Awesomes Photogenic

    iamdadman  Congrats on the new chair! (looked it up online, cool looking chair :) ) Sounds like you got a really well fit this time.

    Thanks so much for the link! there is so much that insurance refuses to cover and being able to raise funds for needed equipment will really help us out a lot! :)

  • iamdadmaniamdadman Posts: 190Moderator Moderator
    100 Likes 100 Comments 25 Awesomes First Anniversary
    It has been a godsend for me.  I attended a place called Project Walk and none of it was covered by insurance.  Additionally, we had to pay for lodging and food etc.  HHL helped me raise over $173,000 over the course of six years...

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