Primary users of wheelchairs completely rely on them where mobility is concerned. Their independent living is directly tied to them. This is why the adaptability of wheelchairs to individual needs of their users is of the utmost importance.
Many wheelchairs designed for external use are not suitable for the inside. This is so due to a number of reasons:
- Tires and wheels are designed for rough surfaces and not for smooth ones.
- They are too big for standard door frames.
- Since there is no standard height of furniture, it is not easy to simply transfer from the wheelchair to a sofa or various other seat surfaces.
Firstly, we should talk about the main features of various wheelchairs. There are manual and electric wheelchairs. Manual wheelchairs are mechanical and we can divide them into two categories: folding ones and those with an unfoldable, solid frame.
If you would like to use a manual wheelchair, you have to have strong arms and at least a partial control over your upper body. These wheelchairs are also known as active or standard wheelchairs. There are 2 basic models:
The folding manual wheelchairs – All brands have similar folding mechanisms – flip-up leg rests and foldable backrest. All measurements – width and depth and height of the backrest – can be adjusted to individual needs. Moreover, declivity of the seat can also be adjusted. This adjustment depends on the risk of the wheelchair-related falls and the knowledge of the user. This wheelchair is the most appropriate choice for everyday activities. We do not recommend foldable wheelchairs for sports activities because of the restricted adjustability. Furthermore, due to many movable parts of the folding mechanism, they are not stable enough for certain sports (for example basketball).
Folding wheelchairs are recommended for persons that:
- Are not that independent.
- Do not have enough strength in their arms.
- For children and elderly people.
The rigid wheelchair – Advantages of this wheelchair is that it has less movable parts. Hence, it is more solid and has a higher durability. The rigid wheelchair is designed anatomically, while the design of the folding wheelchair is a subject to its main feature – foldability.
The rigid wheelchair is recommended for persons that:
- Have enough strength in the upper body.
- Would like to be independent.
- Are young and active.
- Treat their wheelchairs as a part of their bodies.
Electric wheelchairs are ideal for active users. Their designs enable a comfortable drive.
What should be adjustable where good wheelchairs are concerned?
The declivity of the seat: This means the height difference between the front and the back part of the seat (the rule: the lower the injury, the higher the level of the backward declivity should be).
Adjusting backrest: Backrests follow anatomical features as no back is fully straight. Backrests should provide comfort. The option of adjusting a specific angle between the backrest and the seat is usually something that rigid wheelchairs have. But we should be reasonable –wheelchairs do not have to have an option to be turned into a bed. Having said that, we should also keep in mind that backrests should not be pushed to the front.
Wheels: If the wheels are more to the front, it is easier to drive the wheelchair and to move around. However, the risk of the wheelchair-related falls is also higher. As a solution to this problem, it is possible to buy additional small wheels that should prevent falls.
The angle of the pedal: It should be such so that the knees do not stick out, and feet are in a neutral position.
Armrests: If there are armrests, they should be adjustable vertically. The elbow should comfortably rest and be supported.
And at last, before making the choice, ask yourself the following questions:
Where will I use the wheelchair the most? Am I just going to use it only from time to time? What daily activities interest me the most? How will I move from one place to another in the wheelchair? How many hours will I spend in the wheelchair every day?
How will I transfer from my wheelchair to other seats and surfaces (bed)?
Do I need help with my wheelchair? Am I going to have assistance when I need it?
How will I drive my wheelchair in my neighbourhood and in my garden? Which surfaces is it designed for?
Spinal-cord injuries represent one of the biggest challenges we know, but even then you should not give up. Spinal-cord injuries turn your life upside-down and you will have to adjust to these circumstances.
But remember many people that faced challenges you are facing at the moment experienced improvement over a period of time. And every new day offered new opportunities for them.