Disabilities are so vast, I am not able to deal with all of them. I have a spinal cord injury and am paralyzed so I will deal with my particular view of mobility needs. I would LOVE it if you want to add your own ideas that are unique to your disability in the comments.
When I attended Roll On Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., one of the things we were working on was asking them not to do away with the funding for our specialized equipment. I asked one of my Congressman if he felt that all of the congressmen would be okay wearing size 8 shoes from Walmart. He assured me that would not work as they all wore different sizes. I told him that he made my point. We also are all different shapes and sizes and have different needs depending on our disabilities and a one-size-fits-all wheelchair will never work. He agreed.
When you talk about the mobility needs of a person who is paralyzed, it is easy to say, “Duh…they need a wheelchair to get around!” True! But what kind? A manual chair? A power chair? A manual chair with a power assist? A standing chair? A 4×4 all-terrain outdoor chair to hit the yard, sand and nature trails? I would love to say YES to all of these!! But unless you are very rich, that won’t happen.
Many times, your injury decides which chair you get. A high cervical injury will almost always use a power chair because of the lack of upper body movement. My injury is located at the C5-C7 level. If I was a complete injury, a manual chair would not even be possible. I have used a manual chair for 9 years and have had an older power assist for longer days and outdoor use. That power assist has not worked for over a year now and with some issues this past year that has caused a lot more pain, spasms and loss of strength in my already weaker upper body muscles, I am now using a power chair part of the time also.
Pros of a manual chair:
- More versatile to travel around with others as you can throw them in any vehicle – even if you need help with the transfer into the car.
- Minimalist in design so easier to maneuver in tight spaces.
- Easier for others to help get you where you need to go in the presence of stairs, or no curb cuts.
- More affordable
Cons of a manual chair:
- All pushing is on you.
- Will need help pushing on steep areas, over rough terrain, or when you are too tired.
- Long days/distances are fatiguing.
Pros of power chair:
- No assistance is needed as the powerful motors can take you where you need to go.
- Energy and upper body wear is maintained.
- The customized ones tilt, recline, elevate your legs and lift the seat height to eye level which allow much more access to things in your home.
- Long days/distances are not as fatiguing.
Cons of power chair:
- They are very heavy and can only be transported in vehicles that have a lift or ramp to carry them.
- They have batteries that must remain charged so they take more maintenance.
- Much more expensive.
I have always used a manual chair which served me well for about 7 years. I have been fighting insurance for about 3 years to get a new manual wheelchair with a power assist added on to help me. A power assist is a power feature that is added to a manual chair. It has tried to bridge the gap by giving you all the pros of a manual and power chair without the cons. I just now finally got approved of all funding for my manual wheelchair (about $6,000) and the power assist ($5,000) and so now you know why I had to wait until insurance could pay! I could not afford that.
I was also just given a power chair that is not a jazzy style chair. I have been given the jazzy styles before and while I am very thankful for them, they are not custom to my body and are not made for people with spinal cord injuries. They are made for those who can walk but need help with a long day. This power chair is a high end custom chair that fits me perfectly! It has many features and it has felt SO good for my body!! I do always have this fear that the batteries will die while I am out and I will be stranded! But so far, it has been fine!
My opinion, is that everyone with a spinal cord injury should have BOTH a manual and a good fitting power chair.
Having the freedom to go with friends in their vehicles, or to go to places that aren’t accessible, or to keep up the exercise that your upper arms need (if you have the strength to propel yourself) is why you need a custom, lightweight manual chair. However, enjoying a long day out and not being so exhausted, or a rough day of pain when your chair can keep adjusting you without having to go to bed, or wanting to go out on rougher terrain that is very difficult in a manual chair, make a power chair a valuable piece of equipment.
There are SO many cool mobility products on the market and I love it when friends send me messages telling me about them. The reality, however, is they are very expensive and insurance won’t touch them. Insurance hardly ever pays for both a manual and a power chair!
When you are trying to decide to get a power or manual chair, there is much wisdom in a manual chair with a power assist…if you can get insurance to pay for the power assist. They don’t like paying for them. Vocational Rehab is paying for mine and insurance is paying for my chair. Because of my level of injury, I now need a power assist or I will have to use a power chair all the time, so Vocational Rehab paid for my power assist to help me be able to continue working. That may be an option you want to look into!
Some things that have helped me and that we are hoping will continue to help even more:
Ribgrips – very grippy handrims for my manual chair since my hand strength is not strong at all. I can just touch these rims with the front or back of my hands and they go. I will never be without them again! Big game changer for me! (if you want to order some for yourself, use code AR15 for a discount from me!)
New Smart Drive power assist – this has to be on my on my chair all the time now because my arms have gotten much weaker this past year. Hopefully, new seating and a new manual chair will help heal some of the overuse and damage. This power assist will be SO helpful for that wear and tear on my upper body.
Quickie QM 710 – I just can’t tell you what a help this power chair has been to me. This is a silly pic, but this was a LONG day at the park with my kids. By this time, we had been there for hours and my nerve pain was awful. While they played on the playland, I laid back to get all the weight off of my backside and legs. After about 15 minutes of laying back, my nerve pain was back to manageable again. I could have cried it was so wonderful! The other way would have been to be miserable while trying to let the kids play and then having to call them to go home so I could go to bed. This has brought me SO much more up time and freedom from my bed. It may seem little to some, but this has been HUGE for me!
Let me know your thoughts about your mobility equipment!