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?