When you need a wheelchair, whether it's your first or it's time for a new one, you should always take into account a variety of factors to make sure you get the most suitable chair for your needs. Often you'll have an Occupational Therapist or other healthcare professional to help you on a couple of these points, but make sure you consider all of them. If you'd like additional advice, SDL have over 30 years' experience and are always happy to provide guidance or talk you through the various options available.
The best type of chair for you is always one that supports your body in the way you need it to. Depending on your individual disability, you may need extra back support or neck support. You need a chair that supports your posture effectively, especially if you will be spending a lot of time in it.
The choice of chair is only one aspect to consider on this point. It's very rare that an off-the-shelf wheelchair will be able to fit your needs exactly. You may need customisations to ensure the chair is not only comfortable but also safe and supportive. This is an area we specialise in, so again, we're always happy to run through this with you to make sure you understand how best to get the right fit for you.
Strength, Propulsion and Range of Movement
Your range of movement will affect the types of wheelchair that are most suitable for you. If you have limited arm movement or strength, you may need to consider a fully electric wheelchair.
Alternatively, you might prefer a converted manual wheelchair with joystick-controlled electric propulsion, like our SDMotionDrive.
If you are able to propel yourself, you may prefer a manual wheelchair. It is possible to add electric propulsion to a manual wheelchair at a later date (our SDMotionAssistPlus is another option that does this, adding power to your wheels to reduce the strength needed to move). The fact that the SDMotion products can be used to convert a manual wheelchair means that you can choose the type of chair that you want now, without worrying that you'll need to change it again too soon.
Range of movement can also affect your head and neck, which means that you may need to consider a wheelchair with a headrest, like some of the Paravan range. This ties in closely with posture and support and is an area that your OT will likely be discussing with you.
One factor that should have a considerable impact on the type of wheelchair that you choose should be your intentions around driving and travelling. Many people leave this consideration out, which can significantly affect your vehicle options down the line. We would always advise you to take this into account from the first stage in choosing a wheelchair.
If you plan to drive, you need to decide if you'll be transferring into the driver's seat or if you need to be able to drive from your wheelchair. Due to the height of wheelchairs, driving from one will require a vehicle with enough internal headroom to accommodate you in your chair comfortably. Not all wheelchairs are the same height, so getting advice on this point can open up your options. A wheelchair with a rise and fall seat can also make a difference.
Vehicle conversions are certainly possible, it's what we're known for in fact, but choosing the right wheelchair to start with means your options will be less restricted. Not every vehicle can be adapted or have the floor lowered (only front wheel drive vehicles are suitable for floor lowering), so think about both the wheelchair and the vehicle together.
If you plan to transfer into your vehicle and stow your wheelchair, this obviously means you don't have to worry about headroom. But you do have to consider how to manage wheelchair storage - you'll need a way to get your wheelchair into your vehicle. You could choose something like the AbiLoader, which loads your wheelchair into the boot at the flick of a switch.
If you don't want to lose your boot space, there are rooftop storage options like the Chair Topper.
The main things to think about here are whether or not you will have help to stow your wheelchair each time you take a drive (in which case, a simple hoist or winch could be an option) or if you want to be completely independent. There are plenty of products available to help you manage your mobility in the way you want to, so take the time to consider your options.
One other consideration that should affect your choice of wheelchair is space. How much space does it take to store? How wide is it, and will it fit through the doors in your home comfortably. If it needs to be charged, can the battery be removed or does the entire chair need to have enough room next to a power socket?
Don't only consider your own home in this. If you spend a lot of time at the homes of friends or family, bear that in mind too. This is not the primary concern - obviously getting a wheelchair that fits your body's needs is most important, but being able to live your life and go to the places you want to is still a key factor in getting the right wheelchair.
Finding something that fits your lifestyle as well as your needs is the ideal outcome. If you'd like to talk to one of our experts, and discuss how best to choose and customise a wheelchair for you, please do get in touch with us.