What's the big deal? Wheelchairs look pretty much alike. Right?
Wrong! It's just not that simple. A wheelchair is much more than "looks." There are as many differences in wheelchairs just as there are differences in cars or microwave ovens or... any consumer product.
With wheelchairs it can be even more important. Wheelchairs have strong differences in how they feel, how they fit, how they respond and what they enable us to do.
There are lots of differences in the people who use wheelchairs too. People who use wheelchairs vary in:
Because people, their abilities and their needs are so different there are many possible combinations between people and mobility equipment. That's part of the challenge... figuring out which kind of wheelchair or seating system is best for each person. For many consumers, there is even another person who figures into these decisions. If a spouse or child or family member will be assisting the person using the wheelchair their needs may need to be considered in the wheelchair selection decision too.
People who buy or get a wheelchair for the first time are usually overwhelmed by their choices. In fact, they are overwhelmed just by the idea of having to use a wheelchair. Some of their concerns are addressed on the New User page. Usually, a wheelchair is not what people have in mind as a way for moving around in life.
The information you will find on the next few pages is about the process of getting a wheelchair. This page will link to other pages and resources on the Internet. Our goal is to give you as much information about the process of getting a wheelchair as possible so you can be an informed consumer. We think that informed consumers make better choices and better decisions. We also think that when consumers know more that it is easier for them to see themselves as "clients who are purchasing products and services."
Clients are people who hire professionals and then ask them to help solve or correct complicated problems. This way of thinking can be a very helpful model to keep in mind when you are preparing to get a new wheelchair. Wheelchair selection is a complicated process and, especially if you are new at it, you will want expert help. It will be a learning process for you but you will learn something every time you get a new wheelchair. It is also important to realize that regardless of expertise, you have the biggest stake in the end result. You will be using the wheelchair on a daily basis for the next 5 years or so. Because you have strongest interest in a good outcome we would like to help you know what to expect when you get advice from the seating and mobility professionals who will work with you.
The professionals in the wheelchair business are:
So if you want to know more about this process keep on reading....
If you are like most people, you will be depending on the most knowledgeable person you know when you go to get that first wheelchair. This might be your sister who is a nurse, or an occupational or physical therapist, or a friend or spouse, or a salesperson at a durable medical equipment store. New users of wheelchairs usually get their first wheelchair in one of these ways. They get a:
The outcome or the end-result in getting a first wheelchair can have a lot of variation:
When you are included in the process, then there is a larger chance that the outcome will be a good one. You are included in the process when you are seen as a "client" (someone who is purchasing a service) and the professionals ask you questions about:
When you as a client experience this kind of evaluation you have had the best situation of all.
So... If this is the kind of experience you had the first time you got a wheelchair, count yourself lucky! (Don't loose their phone number!) When it is time to replace your equipment you will have an excellent resource at your disposal. Spending money for this kind of service might seem like an expense to avoid the next time you get a wheelchair but it can actually be money very well spent. Mobility products and services are more expensive and more complicated today. Insurance companies allow replacement chairs less often so you can be stuck with a poor purchase for a long time. Many insurance companies are starting to recognize the value of a good evaluation and are starting to require it a a condition for purchase. A good evaluation can be a huge saving in time and aggravation. You can often prevent a secondary disability like a shoulder problem, a pelvic position problems or a pressure sore when you have a knowledgeable professional working for you.
Since there is so much to learn about getting a wheelchair for the first time, this is a good place to talk more in depth about that process. There is a whole vocabulary of new words that you will start to hear. And it might be helpful to understand a head of time about some parts of the "service delivery" process. "Service delivery" is health care jargon that refers to the way an organization sets up the processes and procedures they will use to get their services delivered to you. Any time you get involved with an organization it is helpful to know a little something about how service delivery works and how to move around in that system.
But, first do this!
Before you take your wheelchair prescription to an evaluation team it will be important for you to think about o the following important questions. As you come up with answers it may also be important to discuss with them with your family. Here they are:
If you have thought about these questions ahead of time, then you will approach the evaluation process a little differently than most new consumers. On the other hand, it is important that you have a team that takes the time to listen to you. Good Luck!
Here are some additional resources related to choosing a wheelchair that have been found through searching the WWW.
Back to Getting Started.
Last Updated: 3-2-2006