Don't Make These 5 Mistakes When Buying Your First Wheelchair

Photo (c) Medline. Photo (c) Medline

Heed this advice. There's more to wheelchairs than you think, so step one is to absorb these lessons, or else you'll risk spending too much money for a wheelchair that doesn't deliver what you need.

Here's what I mean...

1. Don't assume a wheelchair, is a wheelchair, is a wheelchair...

If you are shopping for your first wheelchair, this is a forgivable assumption. You may not have had any prior experience with a wheelchair before so you may not realize that they come in different sizes.

Just like you wouldn't buy a pair of shoes that don't fit you, don't buy a wheelchair that doesn't fit. They don't come in numerical sizes like shoes; you'll never say, "I'm a size seven and a half," when shopping for a wheelchair. They do however, come in pediatric sizes, small, medium, large, extra large, and bariatric. And depending on the manufacturer of the chair, the sizing in these categories can vary slightly.

The main advice is, you should ensure proper fit in your wheelchair. Make sure it fits you comfortably, and don't settle with a resigned attitude like, "Well, I guess this is how they are supposed to fit." Don't do that to yourself. Adopt Goldilocks' strategy; find the one that is "just right."

2. Don't forget to shop for add-on accessories.

The add-on accessories are often what can enhance your comfort and thus your mobility and freedom in your wheelchair. Do you need telescoping foot rests?

What about a seat or back cushion? Will you use your wheelchair outside often? Then you may want an umbrella stand or an all-weather cover for yourself to keep the wind and rain off of you. What about a pouch of some kind to hold anything from your medications or a snack bar? A cup holder? A tray to eat dinner or to hold your laptop, iPad, or even an old-fashioned book?

If you're going to spend time in your chair, these add-ons are not frivolous "up-sells". There are meant to give you as much freedom and high-quality of living that you deserve.

3. Don't fail to consider a motorized wheelchair.

It pays to spend some time thinking about how you'll use your chair, and who you'll use it with. For example, will you be able to manually push your wheels for longer trips? Do you plan on enjoying the great outdoors, in the garden, the yard, the park? How about travel, and touring everything from museums to old historic ruins? 

If you feel confident about your arm and shoulder strength, then a manual chair could be fine for you. I suggest gloves to protect your hands though. But if you think you'll need help getting around, you'll want to at least consider and try out the different experience in a motorized wheelchair. These are controlled usually with a joystick on the arm. They are easy on your shoulders, arms, and hands, and therefore handy if you have a partner who has trouble pushing your chair, or perhaps you live alone.

4. Don't fail to shop around, and consider used wheelchairs.

There are companies that specialize in taking in used wheelchairs and powered scooters, refurbishing them, and then selling them for less than the cost of a brand new one. But they work just as well once they are tuned-up. And you can still find accessories, either from the used seller or buy a new accessory to add on to your used chair. Used wheelchairs and motorized scooters are at least worth your consideration. If you don't have one locally in your area, you can find them on the web. Some of the stores are very good and even post videos of their used chairs in use so you can see exactly how well they run.

5. Don't fail to consider how you'll get your chair from one place to another.

For example, once you've found a chair that fits you, has the accessories you need, all for the price you like, you now need to make sure it can maneuver through your home, and can fit in your car or van. Think about taking your chair to the usual places you visit and walk through that process in your mind to see what potential obstacles there may be.

You may need a wheelchair ramp installed at home to get out of your house. Perhaps an electric stairlift? Some people keep one chair for use inside their home and another for venturing outdoors or car travel.

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