If It’s Your First Time Needing a Wheelchair: This is What You Need to Know

Out of the roughly 53 million people with disabilities in the country, approximately 2.2 million use a wheelchair to help them get around their homes to perform routine tasks or commute around town to purchase groceries and run other errands, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Car accidents are a key reason that people are hospitalized with a spinal cord injury or a similar type of chronic injury that causes mobility problems they had never experienced before the accident occurred.

If you have a disability and you must get a wheelchair, but you’re uncertain about what to expect or even where to begin since you’ve never had a mobility aid of any kind before, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed.

Here’s what you need to know to make transitioning to wheelchair life easier on yourself.

Selecting a Wheelchair

Once you’ve realized you must get a wheelchair, one of your early decisions will be to determine what kind of wheelchair (frequently referred to as just “chair”) would be best for you to get. This choice will be important since you’ll be spending a significant amount of your time in it. Therefore, you can’t pick one that provides only adequate comfort; you need one that will provide optimal comfort and ease of use.

As you conduct your research, you’ll find a bewildering array of choices, from sizes to designs to features. You can ask a professional like an occupational or a physical therapist to help you with your selection. A good chair dealer will also know what questions to ask you to provide you with the best model for your needs. Moreover, you can get great advice from other wheelchair users; being that they have actual experience, they may be able to offer real-world insights that professionals and dealers sometimes cannot.

Deciding Between a Power Wheelchair and a Manual Wheelchair

Wheelchairs come in two types: power and manual. The manual type might initially seem as if it would require a lot of extra hard work and strength. That’s not true, though. In fact, one of the advantages of a manual chair is that it’s made from lightweight materials, so it doesn’t take as much energy at all to keep it in motion. Since they also don’t need a charger, as power chairs do, you don’t have to worry about that limitation and will be free to roam as you like. Manual chairs cost far less than power chairs, both in terms of up-front cost and long-term cost; keep in mind that power chairs with all their electrical components may require higher maintenance costs and more frequent repairs. Manual chair users have also found them easier to maneuver when making smaller movements.

The advantages of a power chair include being able to save all your energy since you’re not self-powering it. That’s especially beneficial when traveling a great distance or up a steep incline; you don’t have to worry about wearing yourself out to reach the destination as you would if you were to use a manual chair for the same task. If you overexert yourself or overuse certain muscles, which could happen if you used a manual chair, it could lead to problems in the future; as a result, a power chair might be a more sensible choice. Because there are many issues related to which chair type to choose, your therapist is in the best position to guide you in the selection process and should determine whether a manual or power chair is appropriate for you.

Understanding Wheelchair Ramps

Residences and businesses have different obstructions for chair users, for example, stairs and doorway thresholds, that you’ll need to traverse. Ramps are ideal platforms that allow you to move your wheelchair across these obstacles effortlessly. While the conform to the ADA’s recommendation of having a 1:12 slope—that is, for every 1 inch of elevation, or rise, the ramp has 12 inches of horizontal, or ramp, run—many chair users find a 1:20 slope even more comfortable. You can buy an assortment of ramps designed for various purposes; for example, threshold ramps allow you to cross raised landings such as entering your SUV, and portable ramps allow you to fold them up and take them along with you anywhere you go.

Moving Forward

Contrary to how some might view it, having to use a wheelchair doesn’t mean being put in “wheelchair prison.” When you buy the right one for your needs and learn how to navigate it, you’ll find that while you may have needed to make some adjustments internally and externally, your life is still full and still has the potential for even greater enjoyment—just in a new way.


Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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