There's a lot to consider when choosing electric wheelchairs as in comparison to mobility scooters they are intended for users with more complicated health conditions and more complicated mobility requirements. But if you know that an electric wheelchair is right for you, we'll go through everything to consider below.
Where are You Going To Use It?
If you need a wheelchair primarily for indoor use, the most important factors to consider are the size of its turning circle and of its overall dimensions. A mid-wheel drive wheelchair will usually have the tightest turning circle but it has downsides when driving outdoors so can be limiting if plan to use it outdoors at all. Front-wheel-drive wheelchair can handle outdoors better but also has a reasonably tight turning circle.
It's important to understand that not all outdoor electric wheelchairs can handle rougher ground or steep terrain and large kerbs, however, they should all be able to handle pavements. You can look at specifications such as maximum ground clearance and obstacle climbing (kerb climbing) capability, as well as the maximum rated safe slope for that wheelchair.
Which Wheel Drive?
These are the most traditional type of wheelchair as they are the most intuitive to drive. They're ideal for outdoor use and have quite a few limitations for indoor use so are mainly intended for outdoor-only use.
These are becoming the more popular option over rear-wheel as they are the most manoeuvrable; they have the smallest turning circles and typically the most compact frames. They can struggle on bumpier terrain and ramps as the middle wheels can lose traction but some models come with advanced suspension that overcomes this - making them an excellent option for both outdoor and indoor use.
Although the hardest to learn to use, they are arguably the best option out of the three wheelbase options once mastered as they offered both great indoor and outdoor performance. Their turning circles and frame size are smaller than rear-wheel drive wheelchairs so they can deal with narrow spaces well. They also offer better traction than rear-wheel drive and smoother kerb climbing.
Comfort is incredibly important in a wheelchair, especially if you will be using it most of the day in it or if you have more complicated postural needs.
For those with basic needs, a standard canvas-padded back or a high-back captain's style seat will offer enough comfort and support. It's also worth noting that basic electric wheelchairs have a set seat size so it won't necessarily fit you perfectly.
For those with more complex needs, higher-end configurable options will have adaptable seat sizes and can be fitted with a wide rang of different backrests and cushions that provide the ideal pressure relief and postural support for you. Powered positioning options such as seat tilt, seat riser and elevating leg rests are available on many of these.
Transportability & storage
Whilst many electric wheelchairs are made of lightweight materials and can be folded down, many others are not and can weigh more than 80kg or significantly more.
This may mean you'll need a hoist that can lift your wheelchair in and out of your car or you could consider a special wheelchair adapted vehicle. These have had seats removed and have a low floor and ramps, meaning you can drive the wheelchair straight in. If you intend to do this you will need to ensure your wheelchair is crash tested and come with tie-down points.
If you wish to use a wheelchair on public transport you will need to check with your bus or train company for their size restrictions. As mid-wheel drive wheelchairs have the best manoeuvrability you might need to choose one of these if you intend to use public transport often.
As electric wheelchairs should ideally be kept indoors, you should also consider the dimensions for this. If this isn't at all possible then make sure it at least has a removable battery to store that indoors.
Other things to consider
Rear-wheel drive wheelchairs will need a kerb climber fitted and so would smaller, less capable mid-wheel drive wheelchairs.
Top speed - wheelchairs usually have a top speed of 4mph but some are 6mph or 8mph and these speeds are only used when driving on roads but give you extra capability.
Suspension and wheel size - this will give you an idea of how capable the chair is outdoors.
Range - these should be taken with a pinch of salt but comparing them from the same manufacturer will give you an idea of how far a wheelchair can travel. Battery size and type is also a good indicator of range.
User weight - electric wheelchairs have different weight capacities so if you are a heavier user, you'll want to consider these and remember it's best to allow some leeway.
- Controls - whilst for most a joystick is adequate, others may need to use attendant control or dual control (both regular joystick and attendant control). If attendant-only control is needed and only a basic wheelchair then you may be better of with a manual wheelchair and a power add-on. Some may also need to consider chin or head controls.
The best things to do once you have an idea of what is best is to try a few options out at a local mobility dealership. We always recommend seeking professional advice so you have the right chair for your needs. If you have any questions feel free to give us a call