If you have an injury or a health problem that restricts your mobility, you can achieve the independence you desire with a wheelchair that's just right for you. Wheelchairs are constructed for people of every size, shape, and age, and have features designed to meet the many diverse interests of users and appropriate for the various levels of assistance required. Important factors to consider when choosing a wheelchair is the type of terrain and the general weather conditions with which you have to cope. There are wheelchair accessories as well as wheelchair ramps and lifts that will make life easier and more convenient if you experience life on wheels, permanently or temporarily.
The two broad categories of wheelchairs are manual chairs, powered by the users, and electric wheelchairs, powered by batteries. If you have reasonable upper body strength, you will probably be happy with a manual wheelchair, and it is only a matter of choosing one that fits you both physically and in terms of your lifestyle.
A Manual Wheelchair Is Lightweight and Easy to Transport
If you can propel a wheelchair with your arms, a manual chair is the least expensive chair, has no batteries to recharge, and the fact that it is lightweight makes traveling with it and transporting it relatively easy.
1. The standard manual wheelchair has fixed armrests, and footrests that are fixed but can be adjusted up and down. These chairs are built of steel, chrome, or aluminum, and the material used affects both the weight and price of the chair.
2. The detachable manual wheelchair has detachable armrests or footrests or both, and is especially appropriate if you cannot bear weight on your legs.
3. An orthopedic wheelchair is a good choice if you have hip or knee problems because it has a number of elevation footrests, allowing the legs to rest in various raised positions.
4. A reclining wheelchair with its reclining backrest is useful if you have difficulty in sitting upright or need to lie down frequently.
5. A wheelchair appropriate for a child must be suitable for the school environment and social setting of the child, and, if it is for long-term use, must be able to "grow" with the child. This means that it is not only important to find one with removable armrests and footrests, but also one that allows you to replace the crossbrace and the front frame sections.
6. Lightweight chairs vary in weight from twelve pounds to forty-five pounds and were originally designed for wheelchair sports. Today, they have become popular for everyday use because of their cool look and the ease of transporting them.
7. Specialty chairs are built for people who need very large chairs or chairs that can support extra weight, or for people who can propel the chair with only one arm, or whose center of gravity is less common because of leg amputations. There are chairs designed especially for patient in nursing homes; chairs that can be operated by programmable joysticks, head controls, or are voice activated; and chairs for indoor use only. No matter what your special needs are, you can find a chair that is right for you.
A Power Wheelchair is Great if You Need an External Power Source
If you have limited strength in your arms, an electric wheelchair will supply that power for you. Power wheelchairs use either gel cell or wet cell batteries that require regular recharging, and there are several different styles of chair depending on where the battery is mounted. It can be under or behind the seat, on a pedestal mounted on a power platform, within a round platform with the seat fixed to it, or as power-pack attachments, allowing a manual chair to be converted to a power chair. There are also electric scooters for anyone whose difficulty is limited walking and standing ability.
A power wheelchair have a number of disadvantages compared to manual. They are bigger, heavier, and bulkier than manual chairs, and certainly more expensive. They are also difficult and expensive to transport and require regular battery recharging. The advantages, however, far outweigh the disadvantages when they contribute to your well-being. Power chairs are easy to propel and preserve the user's strength and energy for other activities. They also reduce the pain and wear and tear on arms and shoulders from daily use. Power chairs permit continued activity and quality of life even if there is a decline in your body's function. Not only that, but they have become sportier looking (e.g., like the Jazzy power wheelchair), and are no longer as big and bulky as they once were. As well, some models can be folded or disassembled for ease of transport. Check out the recent changes in power chairs.
To reduce the cost, powered wheelchairs can be purchased secondhand, but remember that a used wheelchair doesn't have a transferable warranty from the manufacturer and the price should reflect that fact. If you have a disability, you can often receive assistance in purchasing a needed wheelchair through various charitable organizations, or can have part of the cost covered by your medical insurance. Make your needs known.
Good Wheelchair Accessories Make a Huge Difference in Comfort and Convenience
A good cushion for your wheelchair turns an uncomfortable or acceptable chair into a great chair. The cushion must assist the user in maintaining correct posture to help prevent pressure sores, and allow for good respiration and circulation. There are three main types of cushions:
1. Air floatation cushions are light and waterproof, but are subject to punctures and leaks, and the air pressure has to be checked regularly.
2. Foam cushions are lightweight and inexpensive and available in a range of densities. Unfortunately, they wear out faster than the other two styles and will lose their shape over time.
3. Gel cushions are heavier than the other two styles but are very comfortable. Make sure, however, that you don't buy a product that allows the gel to shift out to the sides, which will cause the cushion to lose its shape.
Other accessories for comfort and convenience are mounting systems to hold communication devices and laptop computers, and restraint systems for securing a wheelchair in a car or van. There are also support aids to assist people to sit upright, to prevent slipping from side to side, and to support the head. Also available are gloves, seat covers, and arm, elbow, and leg pads. There are wheelchair locks and covers as well as car hand-controls and driving controls.
Wheelchair ramps, hoists and lifts allow wheelchair access to buildings that have not been constructed for wheelchair use, and there are automotive lifts and ramps for cars and vans. There are permanent, semi-permanent (using bolts), and portable ramps, and they operate electrically or with hydraulic systems.
You can find information about wheelchairs of every type and style, both new and used, on the Internet. There is a wonderful selection of wheelchair accessories, replacement parts and batteries, exercise equipment, and wheelchair lifts, ramps, and even plans for anyone willing and capable of building a wheelchair ramp. Shop, compare, and order with confidence online. On the Internet, you can find the wheels you need and the means to travel in comfort. Your wheelchair should liberate you; make sure you find one that does.
Scott Gray is currently freelance writing and enjoys providing information and moneysaving tips to consumers who are in the market for a wheelchair, wheelchair ramps, or wheelchair accessories.