SCI 101 & Rehab

Buying Wheelchairs

Buying a wheelchair is a lot like buying a car. Whether it's your first wheelchair or your fourth, is a huge purchase to consider. After all, with manual wheelchairs costing around $5,000 and power wheelchairs costing at least $20,000, it truly is like  buying an actual car.

What to look for?

When choosing the right wheelchair for your needs, there are two things you must consider before anything else - comfort and function.  These two things are the most important things to think about when choosing a wheelchair. Does it make your life easier and is it comfortable?  These are two things you'll always want to think about in the back of your mind. You will also need to meet with an OT therapist to get measured for the right seating.

Quality: You'll also want to look for wheelchair that is high quality. Afterall, you don't want your wheelchair falling apart on you. After all it is your "legs." Always do your research and ask around (online is a great place to look of course) instead of going with whenever wheelchair your rehab professional recommends. There are dozens of wheelchair manufacturers out there so you want to be as informed as possible before making your purchase.

Function: Along with good quality parts, you'll want to make sure your wheelchair is as functional as possible.  Instead of having air in your tires, you can gel-filled tires which are impossible to pop. This however makes the wheels slightly heavier, so if you plan on pushing yourself this might not be the best option. Also, will you need armrests? What kind of seating will you need? Think of it all.

You'll also need to meet with a rehab specialist for their recommendation. This is needed for your insurance. After you consult with a medical professional, next meet with a sales rep/vendor from wheelchair companies you're interested in or you can work with a salesperson from a medical supply company to decide on the right wheelchair. You can also borrow a wheelchair for a few days, which is a great way to test a chair's functionality in your life.

And don't get overwhelmed. There are a lot of wheelchair companies/models to choose from. While it's good we have a lot of choices, you'll definitely need some help. Always make sure to meet with a rehab specialist before buying a wheelchair. They will help you think of things you haven't not even realized were important when buying a wheelchair.

Dimensions: The dimensions of your wheelchair, powered or manual, are also important. Consider the home you'll be going back to, or if you're getting a van or a car, you want to make sure you have enough room in these places to maneuver. And the wheelchair needs to be fitted to you precisely.  This will help you push and will preserve your shoulders in the long-term. Also, think about your knee-height so you can roll under restaurant tables, desks, etc without knocking your knees.

Buying a Manual Wheelchair

There are hundreds of styles of manual wheelchairs, from lightweight wheelchairs made from titanium or alloy to wheelchairs that come with power-assist wheels, allowing quadriplegics to independently push their own wheelchairs. Quickie, Tilite, Colours and Spinergy are some of them are popular manual wheelchair companies in the US.

And there are many things to consider when buying a manual wheelchair. How high do you want your backrest, will you need armrests, will you be removing the wheelie bars in the back of the wheelchair? This of course all depends on your level of injury and how well you balance in your wheelchair.

And the materials your wheelchair is made out of, which affect the weight, are also important. Titanium and alloy are two very lightweight metals that make wheelchairs lighter and therefore a lot easier to push. "It's all about the glide" is what they like to say when it comes to gauging how well you are pushing your wheelchair.

Having proper balance in your chair is also hugely important. You want to make sure your balance is on-point so you can push your chair as easily as possible. Most paraplegics will use manual wheelchairs, as well as low-level quadriplegics; the latter are able to use this type of chair because of proper fitting and good balance, as well as push-assist devices that are now there, which help the wheels turn.

Buying a Power Wheelchair

Buying a power wheelchair is even more stressful because of the price. You'll want to make sure you do your research before choosing a powerchair.  Many people like power wheelchairs from Invacare, but they are no longer covered by the government. Quickie and Permobile are two top powerchair brands to look into instead.

And don't forget no matter what kind of wheelchair you buy, make sure it fits you exactly the way you want it. Long-term use of a poor-fitted wheelchair can result in postural problems and skin breakdown.

Please watch the award-winning 53 minute video below on how to buy a wheelchair, including interviews with experts,  doctors and rehab specialists. Afterwards, please check out our takeaway points and helpful links below. And good luck buying your wheelchair!

And remember wheelchair purchases, repairs and items not medically necessary but needed for employment are covered by Vocational Rehab too. If you need to seek an additional funding source, be sure to contact the VR agency in your state. You can find a directory here

Video: CHOOSING A WHEELCHAIR (award-winning film)

The Manual Wheelchair Comparison: Chair Shopping

Takeaway Points:

  • Buy a quality wheelchair so that it doesn't break down a lot
  • Make sure your wheelchair functions well for you
  • Have your wheelchair properly fitted so you can sit pain-free all day
  • Meet with a rehab specialist first before meeting with a vendor to discuss your needs
  • Make sure the dimensions of your wheelchair will fit your home and vehicle
  • You can test a wheelchair for a few days before purchasing to see if it's the right chair for you

Helpful Links: