Category Archives: Tiffiny Carlson

Real-life new wheelchair shopping lessons

Every wheelchair-user fears the same thing: Transitioning to a new wheelchair. I’ve had four new power wheelchairs over my 20 years of being paralyzed, and each transition has been progressively more difficult (oh how I wish it was as fun as shopping for a new sports car). Yup, getting a new wheelchair it’s about as fun as going to dentist.

However, if you’re like me, you’ve been using a wheelchair for awhile and know what works for you. So good news! You’re in for a less rough of a time than most.  But be warned, ordering a new wheelchair is so not like buying new clothes. You just can’t return it if it doesn’t fit, or decide you don’t like it. It’s a massively expensive purchase and there’s a lot of risk involved. What’s a wheelchair-user to do?

One of the best solutions to this quandary – finding a brand you like and sticking with it. My first wheelchair was a rental – an E&J clunker from the 1980’s (oh man that was an awful wheelchair).  Needless to say, for my first chair I decided to go shy away from that brand and went with an Invacare powerchair instead. A teal non-whiny powerchair. A cutie patootie.

Here’s the thing – a wheelchair just isn’t a mode of transportation, it reflects who you are (even if you don’t like it).  This makes getting the right wheelchair key. Trust me, the right chair can definitely have an impact on your outlook on life: Get the wrong chair, you’re as crabby as Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. Get the right chair, and conquer the world like Sen. Langvin (a quadriplegic representative from Rhode Island. He has an iBot).

This is why shopping smartly is massively important when shopping for a wheelchair, but this is not always easy when there’s monetary restrictions. Some of the most amazing chairs that could completely transform people’s lives – 4x wheel drive wheelchairs, wheelchairs that stand up on their back two wheels, wheelchairs that climb stairs – can’t happen for a lot of people. This is why shopping for your main basic chair, which is probably not your first choice, but you’ll take it anyways, is a pretty big decision.

What should you look for? I ended up liking the Action powerchair line from Invacare because it looked as modern as a powerchair could. It wasn’t really loud and it came in some pretty cool colors (that’s my 14 year old mentality there), and I’ve consistently gotten my chair from them over the years though, only a newer model. They just feel good. I’ve looked at other brands – Quickie, Permobile, but they were either too loud/not as streamlined, too big and wouldn’t fit in my van, or they were were too darn expensive and not covered by my insurance. I had to settle, but it was a happy settling at least.

The newest model I got from Invacare is their TDX SP, with elevator seat (and in ‘wet black’ so it matches all of my clothes). It also came with tilt, but (funny story) I had to remove it so I wasn’t sitting so high from the ground.  After getting it, I found I couldn’t reach things when I dropped them. It was a bummer, but it had to be done (and my tilt now sits in my closet in a big cardboard box).

But boy do oh I love my elevator seat. It raises my seat 2 1/2 feet taller than it usually is, giving me a much better view at concerts or when talking to people. The first time I got it was my most previous wheelchair (in 2005) and holy cow was that a happy year. I was getting stuff out of the cupboards left and right like it was going out of style (just because I could). I’ll never go back.

Remember, at the end of the day the final decision on the chair you’re going to get should be yours. Rehab specialists and PT’s may think they know what will work best for you, but always go with your gut. I’ve learned that’s one of the best ways to guarantee you end up with a wheelchair you love.

What wheelchair have you found works best for you? Are you a brand person and stick with the same company, or have you tried different chairs from different companies over the years? 

Links

– Invacare’s TDX SP powerchair

– iBot standing wheelchair

My minivan, my unlimited life

Some people eat ice cream or watch Superbad to get happy, I on the other hand have found a much more visceral dorm of happiness – I drive my minivan.

When I finally got my driver’s license at age 25 (a very daunting task for a C5-6  quadriplegic mind you; tons of extra gadgets to get the hang of), my eyes were opened to the therapeutic benefits of getting where you want to, WHEN you want to. No limitations. The same as everybody else (something you rarely get when you use a wheelchair). Every time I get behind the wheel my disability visage transforms into just another car on the road. I love it.

And although yes, it is a modicum of independence, the adapted minivan (the minivan combined with the lowered floor and ramp) is no small purchase. With a base price (new) of $35,000 (and that’s on the low end ) lots of folks just don’t have this kind of money. Buying a used beater, the birthright for most first drivers, isn’t an option for us.

This is especially not cool since so often people with disabilities can have a harder time getting employed. Workplace discrimination is a sad but true reality. So…we struggle make enough money AND our vehicles cost more. Great. I had a hard time figuring out funds myself. Thanks to help from my family, I ended up purchasing a used 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan (1 year old) from a rental car company for $12,000. We figured that was a wise move.

And I was fortunate to have my health insurance cover the installation of the Braun lowered floor/ramp; a huge expense I was worried about (it costs much more than the van itself). I was hugely lucky. But, not everyone is this lucky. I know hundreds people with disabilities both in person and online who desperately need a van. They want to get one, but don’t have the funding. Many of these folks search and search until they find a used one they can afford (but not often though).

Others throw a benefit for themselves to raise the money. This can sometimes work, other times not so much. And others just give up. I really hope adapted vehicles came down in price one day. At least we have newly adapted vehicles like the MV-1, the first adapted vehicle to be made on an assembly-line from VPG, which has greatly lowered the base price.

And I drive from my wheelchair. Yeah, I stay in it. And boy is it sweet. This by far is my most favorite adaptation in my van, and it’s made possible by my EZ Lock automatic chair tie-down system; a slick contraption that keeps my wheelchair in place as I drive. I just drive my chair over it and hear for the “click” (to know when I’m locked in). Such a great independence-enabled thing. Automatic tie-downs truly are the only way to go.

As I do get locked in and turn on my van, feeling it purr…a flurry of endorphins 9 times out of 10 inundates me. This feeling cannot be topped by anything else in my life. Shopping, traveling, my boyfriend even, nothing.

And when I bring my minivan up to speed on the freeway, nothing can beat that stronger and stronger feeling. My unresponsive body is no longer a factor at that moment. Not behind the wheel. The car responds to me and that is all I need. And OMG oh what a feeling.

Thank you, my sweet Silver Bullet, my Dodge Grand Caravan, for bringing me the feeling of limitless joy.

What do you drive? And what kind of adaptations do you use?

Links

– Dodge Grand Caravan

– Braun Entervan

– EZ Lock tie-down system

– The MV-1 from the Vehicle Production Group

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