My Advice before Buying an Electric Wheelchair
If you've ever been to Brixham before then you will probably already know that the town is extremely hilly and unless you live very close to the town centre then you will most likely have to walk up and down a hill at some stage. Imagine what it's like for disabled people who live in Brixham but don't have motorised transport? After I left hospital in 1986 and moved back to Brixham I only had a simple manual wheelchair, so unless I had someone to push me, or transport me in a vehicle, I was pretty much marooned at the Cheshire home. It just so happened that the Cheshire home had various spare electric wheelchairs, one of which was an outdoor wheelchair called the "Myra". This was a large outdoor wheelchair with huge front wheels and a rear wheel drive. This was the first time I've ever used an electric wheelchair, it was fantastic, I was now able to get up and go out on my own unaided.
After I left the Cheshire home at the end of 1987, a Brixham charity chose me for the yearly fundraising mission. I was presented with a brand-new Myra wheelchair down at the Burton hotel pub in Brixham one evening. I now had my very own electric wheelchair which now enabled me to venture out on my own. I used to love trundling down to Brixham breakwater on a lovely sunny warm afternoon, I would sit watching people fish and reminisce about how much I used to love fishing the breakwater when I was a kid, so many fantastic memories that I can still relive every time I go down there.
With the benefit of hindsight I can now look back and see all the mistakes I made before opting for the Myra wheelchair. The biggest mistake I made by choosing a Myra outdoor electric wheelchair is it is just that, an outdoor wheelchair, is is really not suitable at all for indoor use, especially if space is limited. The seating on the Myra was also very uncomfortable, in fact the seating was almost exactly the same as the old NHS wheelchairs. For me to be able to use the chair safely outdoors I would have to hook my arm over the backrest so that I wouldn't literally fall out over wheelchair. I hate to over use the phrase but with the benefit of hindsight I cannot emphasise how incredibly important wheelchair seating is. The chances are you are going to be spending long periods of time sitting in the same position, it is very important that you are positioned correctly in your wheelchair if you are going to avoid aches, pains and possibly soars.
In 1992 I received my compensation for my accident, I decided to change my electric wheelchair for one that suited my living environment a little better. This time I went for a Cheetah indoor/outdoor wheelchair, for the life of me I can't remember the manufacturers name, anyway this choice was a much more suitable wheelchair for my needs, I could use it indoors quite easily as being rear wheel drive it was that much more manoeuvrable than the Myra. The seating on the Cheetah came in the form of a Recaro car seat. Now even though the Recaro seat is more comfortable than the seating that came with the Myra, it is still not ideal. Because it was basically a car seat, you were not able to remove the seating part so that the wheelchair could take a cushion properly, my dad had to literally carve out a recess so that my roho cushion would fit in properly, once we had done that everything worked just fine, but it wasn't ideal and I wouldn't recommend anyone buying wheelchairs fitted with Recaro seats, not unless the seating can be removed so that you can put in a wheelchair cushion properly. We are talking a good 20 years ago, I think things have changed a little, I haven't seen wheelchairs fitted with these type of seating for quite a long time. Most wheelchairs now come with removable seating which means wheelchair cushion normally fit okay.
In 2000 I decided I needed another power wheelchair, the Cheetah was getting old and starting to malfunction. I chose a wheelchair called a Permobil, a Swedish made wheelchair that is very much at the cutting edge of technology. Permobil wheelchairs do not come cheap, especially when you add on all the extras that are available for these wheelchairs. I have recently replaced my wheelchair once again, this time I have gone for another Permobil, after all my old Permobil Chairman gave me nearly 12 years of service without any major problems. It's amazing how technology has come on, my new Permobil is basically the Rolls-Royce of wheelchairs, but you have to bear in mind that I use my wheelchair all day, I don't sit in a manual wheelchair at all, so having a top of the range wheelchair is very important. I now have a Permobil Corpus 500 which is all singing and dancing, believe me this wheelchair is fantastic. I am able to electrically recline my seat to a 50° angle, this means that not only does it give you excellent pressure relief, but it also enables you to have a little sleep during the day if you wish. The tilt and recline is also very helpful when travelling down very steep slopes, it's not a nice pitching forward when going down steep inclines. I can also electrically operate my backrest, leg rests and also raise my whole seat to eyelevel with most people, well people who are no taller than about 5'9", or maybe a little higher, I haven't measured it.
My wheelchair is the top of the range when it comes to powered wheelchairs, because of my condition and daily living I have opted for a wheelchair that enables me to do things in comfort. If I want to have a little snooze during the day then I just recline the seat and have 40 winks. If I'm at the pub and want to join in the conversation with other people then rather than having to look up at everyone, I can simply raise the seat on my wheelchair and I'm up there with everyone joining the conversation. Obviously all this comes at a cost and not everyone is going to be able to afford one of these wheelchairs. Having said this, these functions are available on other powered wheelchairs and cost a fraction of the price of the Permobil. The Invacare Storm electric wheelchair for instance can be purchased with all the functions of the Permobil, but at a fraction of the price.
One of my hobbies is fishing which means travelling over rough ground occasionally, this may come in the form of grass gravel or mud. If you're planning an doing the same then choose a wheelchair with suitable wheels. It's no good going for a wheelchair with very small front wheels, or very thin back tyres, these type of wheelchairs will probably not handle rough ground very well and you certainly don't want to be tipping out of your wheelchair because your small front wheel has got caught in a small hole.
If you suffer from stability problems when sitting in a wheelchair then choosing the right upholstery can make all the difference between sitting comfortably and flopping from side to side. Sitting in a wheelchair seat that is contoured will give you stability and therefore make you feel much safer when you are travelling outside going over bumps in the road and pavement. If you are going to drive while sitting in your wheelchair them stability is important, you don't want to be falling from side to side when you are manoeuvring a roundabout for instance, although you would probably be wise to wear a chest strap to give you that extra stability, or have a specially designed seatbelt in your vehicle that doubles up as a restraints and seatbelt. You may find that your legs need support as well, my legs will often splay apart if I haven't got thigh support. The Permobil Corpus 500 has excellent support for your legs, the thigh support can be critically positioned so that your legs are supported and not flopping all over the place. A new wheelchair is always going to feel rather strange really set in it for the first time, this is quite normal so don't panic when you first set in your new wheelchair, just give it a little bit of time and I can almost guarantee that in no time at all your new wheelchair will feel like you've been sitting in it forever.
If your electric wheelchair is going to be your primary chair on a daily basis then you may want to consider how manoeuvrable it is indoors. Bear in mind that rearwheel drive wheelchairs are much less manoeuvrable than front and mid drive wheelchairs. My Permobil users front wheel drive which makes it very easy to manoeuvre into tight spaces. Permobil also manufacture a wheelchair that has the main wheels located almost directly under the sitting position, these wheelchairs are even more manoeuvrable than the front wheel drive chairs. Some people complain that frontwheel drive wheelchairs fishtail when you are driving at speed, to a certain extent this is true but this normally only happens when you are getting used to the wheelchair, once you become accustomed to it this won't happen.
There are literally hundreds of electrically powered wheelchairs available nowadays. Technology has come along in leaps and bounds and you don't necessarily have to go to the expense I did to purchase something like a Permobil. The Invacare Storm is an extremely good wheelchair that comes in various models, the Storm 4 is a very powerful wheelchair with a top speed of about 6 miles an hour, it will take you just about anywhere you want to go without you having to worry about batteries running down, and at a third of the price of the Permobil is more affordable.
Wheelchair Vehicle Restraint
If you are intending on driving from your electric wheelchair then make sure that you ask about the relevant restraints systems that will fit your particular type of wheelchair. I can't emphasise how important it is to use the proper wheelchair restraint when driving. I'm sure that I don't need to tell you this but if you were to have an accident and your wheelchair was not secured properly then you would be in serious trouble, your wheelchair would literally get thrown around the car with you still in it, I dread to think what the outcome would be if you were travelling at speed, it's too frightening to think about. And please always use a headrest on your wheelchair when driving, again, if you are to have an accident you could cause yourself a serious neck injury you didn't have a headrest. Even if you have got a headrest already, make sure that it is positioned properly, a headrest that is not in the right position will be virtually useless and will give you no protection in an accident.
Wheelchair Voucher Scheme
You may be eligible for a free wheelchair If you are registered disabled. There are normally two options when entering into the wheelchair voucher scheme, you can either take your pick of the wheelchair that your authority has on its list for the voucher scheme, or you can obtain a voucher which will then enable you to go out and buy a wheelchair of your choice. The amount of money that the the voucher is worth can differ greatly depending on where you live in the country. At the time of writing I believe the vouchers worth about £6000 in Devon. You can take the £6000 and add your own money if the wheelchair you want exceeds the £6000, it's up to you if you go it alone, but remember if you buy the wheelchair yourself that you are responsible for maintenance. If the wheelchair belongs to the authority then they maintain it for you. Check out wheelchair voucher scheme for more information on obtaining a wheelchair
I got my Corpus 500 from Exeter Disability Centre. Sadly I would not use this company ever again. Unfortunately they are like many other companies, when you show an interest in buying from them, they are around you like flies around a cowpat. Once you've given them your money they suddenly become less interested in you and any problems you may have. My chair developed an error on the electric foot function. Basically an error code flashes on the LCD readout when I use my electric foot controls. Thankfully there doesn't actually seem to be any problems with my foot rests when I use them. But this is really not the point, Exeter Disability Centre have constantly ignored me when I've asked them to come out and put the problem right. I have got fed up with contacting them so I've resigned myself to the fact that I will have to live with this error. But at the end of the day, they are the ones that will lose out because when the time comes for me to buy another chair, they will not be getting my custom.