Prioritizing and Making Decisions about Wheelchairs

The following list is intended to give you some things to think about when you are evaluating wheelchairs or seating and positioning products. It can be used with decisions about other assistive technology devices as well. This list is not necessarily complete, but it shows that there are many things to consider. The list has also been used to create a comparison matrix which can be fouwn at the bottom of this page. You can print it out an used to help yourself with your equipment-related decision.

Personal Concerns

  • Do I have the needed abilities to operate or to learn to operate this device?
  • Will it help me do what I cannot do now?
  • What are the short comings, if any, in its use or usefulness?
  • Will it be comfortable to use?
  • Will its using it make me feel good about myself?
  • Does it look and feel OK to me?
  • Are there any safety risks in using this device?
  • Can this product/device be purchased easily?
  • Can I have a trial period to see if it works for me?

Access Issues

  • Where and when can this piece of technology be used?
  • Is it bulky? Is it portable?
  • Can I transport it if I need to?
  • Can it be used indoors and outdoors?
  • With outdoor use, are changes in weather a problem?
  • Can I plug it into a regular electrical outlet?
  • Will there be reliable power where I will use it?
  • Is there a battery pack?
  • Is it rechargeable?

Training Needs

  • In general terms, how does this piece of assistive equipment work?
  • Is it ready to use? Is training needed to be able to use it?
  • What skills will I need to learn in order to use this device?
  • If training is needed, is it available?
  • Is training conveniently located?
  • How long will training take?
  • Will it require travel or overnights?
  • Is training included in the purchase price?
  • Will my insurance pay for this training?

Repair and Maintenance Needs

  • How reliable is this piece of technology?
  • How much will it be used?
  • How will it hold up under planned use?
  • How will it look after a year or two of expected use?
  • What is the average "life" of this product?
  • What maintenance is needed?
  • Can members of my family or I do the needed maintenance?
  • Are maintenance or repair services available?
  • Are they convenient for me?
  • What is the service record of the vendor and manufacturer?
  • How long will it take them to get back to me?
  • Can I get a loaner device when mine is in for repairs or maintenance?

Financial Issues

  • What is the cost of the product?
  • What are the training costs, if any?
  • What are possible sources for helping to pay for the device/product and training?
  • Are renting or leasing possible or desirable?
  • What maintenance or repair costs are should I plan on, if any?
  • Will there be a funding source to help pay for future maintenance, repair or replacement?
  • Is there a possibility that the device or equipment will need to be changed or upgraded in the near future?
  • Is there a trade-in allowance?
  • Can I upgrade to another product?

The questions in this list give you an idea of all the things that are involved in being a consumer of assistive technology devices and services. You may find that some of these questions help you to narrow your choices and actually go ahead and make a decision about the assistive technology devices you should purchase.

Assistive technology users have many needs that are not experienced by consumers of mass market products. These questions are reminders that it is important to think about how the characteristics of a device will interact with an individual's special needs or limitations. As a consumer of assistive technology devices it is important to have a clear idea of your goals and how and where your will want to use your wheelchair.

It is also important to remember the important contribution that an experienced and credentialled professional like an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a rehabilitation engineer or a rehabilitation technology supplier can make to your decision. This is especially true if your condition is progressive. It is important to make good seating and mobility decisions in the early years of your wheelchair use to prevent problems that arise from poor support, poor seating, poor fitting or overuse.

Few will argue that the best results happen when you as a consumer are aware of your needs AND you are able to connect with rehabilitation professionals who are committed to client-centered and consultative models of service delivery.

If you found the questions above helpful, download and print one of the following forms of the Wheelchair Comparison Matrix. Use this matrix to record a numerical score for up to 3 different wheelchairs or seating systems you are considering.

The Wheelchair Decision Matrix (Microsoft Word 96 K)

The Wheelchair Decision Matrix (Acrobat Reader 32K)

Last Updated: 3-2-2006

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Contact information:
  Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology  Telephone: 412.624.6279

 © Copyright 2006 University of Pittsburgh. All rights reserved.
No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WheelchairNet and the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology.

Please note: This information is provided a archival information from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheeled Mobility from 1993 to 2002.

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