Yeah it is definitely a cliche, that your wheelchair is “like your legs” but you aren’t going to get very far without it if you use one.
And they wear out over time, sooner or later, depending on how hard-core your life is. I am going on 11 years in my current chair. So it is entirely possible that if you are reading this you may be looking for a chair for your first time alone. Or maybe, like me, you’ve picked them out before but never really gave it much thought. Maybe you just got what had worked before.
This time, it is worth really looking into all of the different options you have. I mean, you spend most of your life in it. Because…umm…it’s like your legs.
I, myself, am considering my next chair with a set of nine different criteria, in no particular order:
- Cushion – Usually you get your cushion separate from the chair itself, but as long as you are getting a new chair you might as well look into a new cushion. And you might as well get the right one. I can’t tell you which is right for you. I’ve had air cushions, the honeycomb type, and the gel filled type. Two of them have been disastrous for me in the long run while for friends of mine they’ve been the answer to all of their problems. Only you know.
- Tires – You’ll probably change tires many times during the lifetime of the chair itself. But again, as long as you’re getting a new chair you might as well start off the next phase of your rolling life right. So you’ll want to consider the season it is when you make the change. If it’s summer, do you plan to switch to winter tires once that season comes around? If so, then you may consider all-season tires. If you live an active lifestyle, there are different types of tires that perform well on different terrains.
- Brakes – Brakes have been a major source of irritation for me over the years. I used to get the fairly standard brakes with the vertical knob which, when pushed forward brought the horizontal bar back across the tire. They work fine but I was always slamming my thumbs into them.
For my last couple of chairs I got the horizontal scissor lock type brakes. You have to reach down underneath your seat and pull the lever forward in order to push the other end of it back across the tire. Not only is this not very handy, but its also very tough to lock if it is tight. If it is loose, it will lock easily but not very well. Both types loosen over time especially as the tires wear down. At this point you are forever ping-ponging between too-tight and too-loose brakes. But at least your thumbs are fine. So it’s your choice.
- Width – Consider your living space and the spaces you frequent (your office, your friends and relatives’ homes, favorite stores and restaurants). Could you improve your mobility in these places greatly by simply decreasing the width of your chair? If so, this could either involve changing the camber of the back wheels, or making the seat itself more narrow.
- Weight – Since you got a new chair last time, your life could have changed in many ways. I used to have a car, for instance, in which I could easily swing my chair into the back seat. Now we have a hatchback. My wife takes the chair to the back and picks it up and puts it in the hatch. I am in the market now for a lighter chair to lessen the burden on her.
- Footplate – I am looking to change my footplate for two reasons. One being the aforementioned weight. It’s a very heavy footplate. It makes the chair heavy overall, but it makes my chair front-heavy too, which affects my maneuvering. The second reason is that the plate sticks out more than it needs to. Many wheelchair users have their feet tucked back a bit more. This, just like reducing the width, makes different spaces much more accessible, and increases maneuverability.
- Handles – My current chair is, I think, the first one that did not have the handles sticking out in the back. They were always a handy thing for anyone to grab onto if they were helping me get up a step or four. But my chair does have a sturdy metal bar that runs across the back which functions just as well, I’m told by those who’ve given me such assistance.
- Seatbelt – It’s real simple. Do you need it? Generally speaking, I don’t for everyday life. The only time I wish I had it is a time when I shouldn’t have to worry about it in the first place. That is when on public transit and I find that they don’t have belts that go over a chair user’s waist. They only have the belts or clamps that hold the wheels in place on the floor. It is unacceptable in the first place to be in that position, but it does happen. So a seat belt probably should at least be an option on your chair.
- Casters – I have somersaulted out of my chair and onto the pavement more times than I can count during my life. A smaller diameter caster can improve maneuverability but can make bumps in the road more hazardous. A wider caster, meanwhile, can improve your chances when it comes to a crack in the road you may otherwise fall into, but maybe aren’t quite so sporty. Like with all of the options I’ve listed, it’s up to you to decide what’s important for your lifestyle.
I hope you’ve found this list helpful in making your own list of priorities with your next wheelchair. I hope the change vastly improves your quality of life.