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Etac UK’s Guide To Choosing The Ideal Electric Wheelchair To Help With Your Disability

Updated on January 16, 2014

If you live with a condition-specific or injury-related disability, finding the right powered wheelchair for your needs can be difficult. Where do you start looking? Who supplies quality, reliable products? Can I obtain funding? How will I have assured peace of mind after purchase?

For answers to these questions and to help get you going in the right direction, here are some useful tips:

Take Time To Research

Help with many questions can be found by searching online and accessing reputable sites and disabled communities with up-to-date information. Independent advice sites such as the Disabled Living Foundation or RICA are ideal places to start your research, whilst forums such as Bespoken and Youreable give invaluable opinions and experiences from fellow disabled people. Charities such as the SIA (Spinal Injuries Association) are also worth looking at if this condition is relevant alongside other fundraising groups such as Scope and the MS Society.

After you have looked online, visiting rehabilitation and disability related exhibitions is a crucial way to look at the widest range of powerchairs all-in-one location…and for free! Events such as i2i’s Naidex National and the three ‘Kidz’ exhibitions run by Disabled Living are really useful for all individuals who would like to chat about their personal mobility needs face-to-face with trained professionals.

The exhibitions are held in accessible locations and visitors have the ability to test, trial and compare the majority of power chair designs in one visit. Only by talking to different representatives, can you truly start to get a feel for what’s right for you – just searching online is not enough. These events tend to have the best brands on show that include well-known names such as Permobil, Invacare and Ottobock however the degree to which bespoke power chairs can be built varies between companies.

Etac UK are a top-end, Scandinavian manufacturer of specialist powered wheelchairs that can be tailor-made and help people with severe disabilities that can include Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Duchenne and Osteogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bones).

Choose A Reputable, Established Name

Once you have researched online, chatted to disabled friends about their recommendations and visited an exhibition, it is then time to contact a few suppliers. Choosing wisely is so important as the electric wheelchair you end up with, can massively improve your levels of independence.

You need to be able to trust the powerchair you depend upon on a daily basis and you definitively do not want one that is unreliable and uncomfortable! Choose the right electric wheelchair supplier and they will support you every step-of-the-way during your initial assessment through to delivery and after-sales care.

Replacement parts and servicing can be expensive from some companies so best to check if warranties come as standard.

Review The Types Of Powered Wheelchair Available

There are many types of adult and paediatric electric wheelchairs on the market to choose. They provide the benefit of independent, powered propulsion controlled via a joystick, instead of a wheelchair that requires manual movement of the wheels or pushing by an attendant. All powered wheelchairs vary in the level of movement they provide – ranging from simple models with non-adjustable seats to cutting-edge designs that can stand you up! Feature levels and functionality can vary greatly between models – some include seats that raise up and down, tilt forward and backwards, lie flat or even ‘tilt-in-space’. A ‘tilt-in-space’ action is really useful for users who have issues with pressure management and circulation. It allows the owner to recline whilst maintaining the same angle between the seat, leg and backrest – sounds odd, but a really comfortable position! Some are front wheel drive and other have rear wheel drive – the latter of which is much better for manoeuvrability in tight spaces.

Many models also include swing-away joysticks and arm rests so transferring sideways into the powerchair is easier from a bed or toilet. There are lots of different seat fabrics to choose from that include highly durable materials, plush leathers, waterproof vinyls and anti-microbial finishes. Some power chairs even have an on-board computer that can be programmed to provide individualised functions and speed!

Important considerations to think about when looking for a powerchair are:

  • What’s the range and speed and how simple is it to charge?
  • Can I understand the controls easily?
  • What comfort and postural support levels does it provide?
  • How will the powered functionality help my day-to-day living?
  • How large is the chassis – will it fit between doorframes, in my home and/or car?
  • Are there specific options and accessories that could help with my disability?
  • What cover is there for servicing, maintenance and emergency breakdowns?

Check Out Scandinavian Design – it can be a real winner!

There are lots of companies based in Sweden, Norway and other Scandinavian countries that specialise in mobility products and services. They are renowned for excellent product design that is reliable, ergonomic and displays real attention to detail. In Scandinavian countries, the provision of healthcare products works differently to here in the UK as commonly the government can fund higher specification products as standard. This more widespread investment in supporting people with disabilities has allowed Scandinavian companies to develop some of the world’s best independent living solutions. Leading brands include Liko (hoists), AutoAdapt (accessible cars) and Pressalit (adapted bathrooms and kitchens).

Get A Full, Personalised Assessment Of Your Needs

The normal way you ensure that a electrically powered wheelchair suits your needs is through a personalised assessment. This can involve your Occupational Therapist (OT), Case Manager, carer, family and a representative from a potential power-chair supplier. It’s a really good idea to initially talk to your OT about the best type of powerchair that might be suitable and to find out what’s available. There are several ways to get help with funding which your OT might be able to highlight, as powerchairs can be high value items. Prices can range from around a few £1,000s up to state-of-the-art wheelchairs with amazing functionality that cost over £10,000. Bespoke powered wheelchairs can cost these kind of higher figures but for that you get market-leading features and functionality, higher levels of comfort and the ability to travel or drive in a car.

If you decide not to obtain a power chair through NHS wheelchair services, as the options they may offer is often very limited, contact a manufacturer to arrange a home assessment. If you need help from the NHS and you are over 18, it can sometimes take several months to be assessed. Therefore if you can obtain funding through charities or already have the money, then you will be able to own a powerchair far quicker.

Your chosen supplier will send an assessor to your home who will chat with you and discover what you really need. They will probably assess the places where you will be using your powered wheelchair such as at work, school or home and take ergonomic measures and medical details. Once this has been completed you should receive a full prescription of the powered wheelchair that is ideal for your lifestyle and the cost to supply it. If you are happy and have discussed every aspect in detail, then you can place an order. However, dependent on your chosen supplier, delivery times can vary quite a lot from weeks to months.

Have The Ability To Drive Or Travel In A Car, Without Transferring Out Of Your Powerchair

One consideration that can be really important when choosing a powered wheelchair is whether it can fit in an adapted car or not. Accessible cars can be set up for access by standard wheelchairs but travelling in a heavier, more specialist powerchair needs further consideration. When you are either driving or travelling as a passenger without transferring out of your powerchair, you need to make sure you are safe and stable.

There are various methods available today to secure powerchairs into accessible vehicles, which include locking plates on the vehicle floor or restraint straps and hooks. Unwin Safety Systems is a leading name in wheelchair tie-downs and locking mechanisms for disabled passengers. Etac also has its own unique system that can be fitted, called ‘The Automatic Tie-down System.’ This consists of a protruding bolt that is fitted to the floor of a car and attaches to a powered mechanism on the underside of an Etac powered wheelchair. This way, no extra electrically wiring is needed within the car as the wheelchair powers the lock – far better if you do not want your car to be altered too much and plan to sell it in the future. There are also systems around today whereby standard driver and passenger car seats can be adapted for easy removal so a powered wheelchair user can sit upfront. Sirus Automotive is one such vehicle convertor that manufactures cars based on the Volkswagen Caddy and Fiat Qubo that allow safe, upfront wheelchair travel.

Can I Get Help With Funding?

If you choose not to wait for NHS Wheelchairs Services or prefer a far higher specification model, then the cost of an electrically powered wheelchair can sometimes be daunting. However there are ways you can get help with full or partial funding through charity donations and grant schemes such as the Government’s Access to Work.

There are many condition-related charities out there dedicated to helping people with disabilities, especially children. They sometimes help with powered wheelchair donations and can have established relationships with companies so that the provision of a product is as quick as possible. Organisations such as Action for Kids, Caudwell Children, The Jennifer Trust and the Motor Neurone Disease Association are to name but a few. All have programmes to support individuals and families affected by disability and contacting them regarding donations to purchase a life changing powerchair is always recommended.

The Access to Work scheme is fantastic if you are looking to continue with a career and need an electric wheelchair to do so. If you qualify, a grant can be paid to you for a powerchair so that you can start working, stay in work or start your own business. Any funds paid to you do not need to be returned and will not affect any other benefits you may receive. Sarah Howard is a powerchair user from Greenwich, London, who carried on working thanks to a powerchair paid for by Access to Work – she really recommends the scheme.

Make sure you have peace of mind after purchase

Once you take ownership of a quality and reliable powerchair – you life will improve significantly! You will have more independence, comfort and dignity through the powered movement of your wheelchair. It is then, that the after-sales support of your chosen supplier becomes really important. Their servicing and maintenance programmes must ensure your electric wheelchair remains tip-top and carries on working in a reliable manner. Asking about warranties that cover repairs is always a must and obtain insurance on your powerchair for extra peace of mind. Insurance companies such as First Senior provide specialist policies for powerchair owners so they are covered in the event of theft, damage or an accident.

Like a car, looking after and cleaning your powerchair all helps keep it working as it should do. Checking that tyres have adequate grip, or lights are working, are small examples that can make a big difference to your safety and comfort.

I hope these few tips help you find the perfect powerchair – good luck hunting!

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