Spinal Cord Injury Ontario

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Five Questions to Ask When Choosing a Wheelchair

close up of side of wheelchair

By Marlene Holder, Physiotherapist with 20+ years working in Seating and Mobility 

With mobility such an important aspect of our lives, choosing the right wheelchair for yourself or a family member can be challenging. Whether it’s your first purchase or your fifth, it pays to take an audit of your needs and environment. This is especially true if your life has recently changed or will be undergoing a transition in the near future.

Below are some questions to guide you in selecting a wheelchair. They will not lead you to a specific model or brand, but they will clarify what to consider when assessing options.

Does it work with my life?

This is the big question. Who are you? How does your typical day unfold? What do you envision for your future? What work are you in and what are your hobbies? Do you have a helper – or do you help others?

Maybe you walk the dog every day or take the kids to the park. Obviously, specific environments and terrains need to be considered. Maybe you work from home or need to get in and out of the car a few times each day. Conduct an assessment of your life, taking into account your living space, transportation needs and daily activities. 

Is it easy to use?

Ease of use is related to lifestyle. If you move yourself around, you’ll have a specific set of needs. If a carer pitches in, their needs will be key. Consider the weight of the chair, how it folds and stores, and the ability to transfer in and out. For example, a higher seat makes transferring easier, but you’ll also want to pull up to tables. In short, how much effort does the chair require for your use or the use of others?

Am I comfortable?

Fit and support are important considerations. Small changes in position can have a big impact on comfort, so ask yourself where you need support and how much. What type of pressure relief is needed, and what materials best provide that? Also consider pain relief and skin protection. And last, comfort also means being able to carry any equipment or supplies you need. How can a chair support your comfort in all ways?

How does it look?

How your chair looks is a part of how you look! Do you want a specific style or colour? Do you see yourself in a particular way – adventurous, sociable, artistic? What about features like drink or phone holders or fun factors like spoke guards and decals? Every chair can have its own character, and you may want it to reflect yours.

Am I clear about what matters most?

This question comes last because there are bound to be compromises when you select a wheelchair. It’s unlikely one chair will offer everything on your list. Knowing your priorities will help you focus on what matters most. Start with your “musts” and then work through your “wants.”

Asking these five questions will help you acquire the right wheelchair for your unique needs and desires – and have confidence in the choice you made.

Learn more about choosing a wheelchair by accessing the Cortree Disability Education Centre.

Marlene Holder is a physiotherapist at SickKids in a partnership agreement with Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab and also runs her own business, Marlene Holder Physiotherapy.

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