Everything You Need to Know About Electric Wheelchairs
Finding the right wheelchair for yourself or a loved one can be an overwhelming experience. With so many styles, makes, models and information out there – it’s hard to know where to start. If you’re considering an electric wheelchair, there are a few key things you should know.
An electric wheelchair can be significantly easier to use than a manual wheelchair. While manual wheelchairs have improved in weight and ease of operation, they still require a considerable amount of upper body strength over long periods of time. And for those who have experienced paralysis or suffer from chronic fatigue, an electric model offers a level of independence that a manual wheelchair cannot.
If you’ve already decided to go electric – great! In the category of electric mobility aids, it usually comes down to electric wheelchair versus scooter. While there are those who prefer a mobility scooter, they come with certain requirements and challenges – such as strength for balance and a vehicle and lift to transport the device. Electric wheelchairs are lighter, foldable and can provide the user with a wide range of benefits.
Want to learn more? Read on!
What’s an Electric Wheelchair?
Sometimes called power wheelchairs, motorized wheelchairs or electric-powered wheelchairs (EPW), electric wheelchairs run off an electric motor. The electric-powered wheelchair was invented by mechanical engineer George Klein circa 1950. While working for the National Research Council of Canada, Klein built the electric wheelchair to assist injured veterans of World War II.
Powered by a battery, electric wheelchairs allow the user to move about at the touch of a button. Many current electric wheelchair models can be folded and stored in closets and can be transported in the trunk of a car without the need for special lifts or vehicle modifications.
Electric wheelchairs are able to go long distances between charges, turn in tight spaces and move across many types of terrain such as interior flooring, sidewalks, roads and tougher terrain. And thanks to advancements in technology, users are able to manoeuvre an electric wheelchair with excellent accuracy and stability.
Much like cars, trucks and other vehicles, electric wheelchairs have various drive systems. Front and rear powerchairs typically have larger drive wheels, while the secondary castor wheels are somewhat smaller – though usually not as small as on a manual wheelchair. Centre drive systems have wheels in the centre as well as front and rear, meaning six wheels in total. All-wheel drive means all four wheels are powered.
Is an Electric Wheelchair Right For You?
But how do you know if an electric wheelchair is right for you? Here are a few questions you can answer that can help you get a good feel for whether electric is the way to go.
Are you highly independent or do you live alone? Electric wheelchairs offer a lot of freedom to the user because they don’t require a large amount of energy to operate, don’t need to be pushed and can take their user pretty much anywhere they want to go. People who lead busy lifestyles often gravitate toward an electric wheelchair because it allows them to move from activity to activity without having to manually operate their device.
Do you fatigue easily or have limited mobility in your arms or hands? Electric wheelchairs can be an excellent choice for those who suffer from chronic illnesses that involve loss of energy and strength. Likewise, if you have limited mobility in your upper body, arms or hands, operating a manual wheelchair may not be the best option.
Do comfort and customizability matter to you? Some people like the bare bones versions of things, while others appreciate something that places comfort and ease at the forefront. Manual wheelchairs have come a long way, and a multitude of options exist, but at the core they still need to be moved via physical force. Because electric wheelchairs use engines and motors to move, they require little effort from the user. They also have many options and the ability to customize is nearly endless.
Even after narrowing your wheelchair selection down to an electric, there are still so many things to consider before choosing one that meets your individual needs. Electric wheelchairs come in different sizes and weights, have different weight capacities and different wheels, motors and batteries. Some gain speed faster than others, and some can travel further than others on a single charge.
Like people, electric wheelchairs come in all shapes of sizes. They can be designed for children, adults and senior citizens. Lighter chairs usually offer excellent manoeuvrability, but they may not last as long as bigger, sturdier models. Another consideration to make is how you want to use the wheelchair and whether it will need to be transported on a regular basis. If so, you’ll want something that is easy to fold up and lightweight.
Different electric wheelchair models also have varying weight capacities. Basic models have a weight capacity of around 250 to 350 pounds. Specialty models have an upper weight limit of 450 pounds. Choosing the right weight capacity is important as it helps the chair to perform optimally. Also, exceeding a wheelchair’s recommended weight limit can void its warranty.
Another important wheelchair specification is the wheels. Wheels can be made of metals and plastics or carbon fibre. Tires can be solid rubber or filled with air. Some models come with wheels that can be quickly removed to help make the model easier to store or transport. But models that are highly compactable don’t need the tires removed as they simply fold as is – often with the touch of a button!
Engines, Motors and Batteries
Electric wheelchairs come with various engines and motors, which power and control the different parts of the chair. When considering the type of engine you need, ask yourself what you’d like to do while using the chair. Is the chair going to be used for daily life – chores, self-care, errands and so on? If so, you won’t need an overly powerful engine. However, if you take part in a lot of recreational activities or plan on using your chair for long distances or on rough terrain, you’ll want to make sure your chair is able to meet the demands of an active lifestyle.
The speed-up rate of a chair, that is the rate at which it accelerates, is directly impacted by its engine. Each chair will have a maximum speed, which is set by the manufacturer. And even if a wheelchair has a high maximum speed limit – much like with a car – you need to be careful operating it.
As for batteries, technological advancements have led to a wide range of battery types, some that are highly efficient and allow for long periods of use between charges. Again, depending on your lifestyle, you’ll want to choose a model with a battery that will meet your individual needs.
And while battery life has the largest impact on how far a wheelchair will travel before needing to be recharged, there are other factors at play. Older batteries will need to be charged more often. The weight of the user also influences a battery’s ability to hold a charge, as does the terrain the chair is travelling on.
Electric Wheelchair Pros and Cons
While electric wheelchairs can be an excellent choice, providing a huge improvement in the quality of life, there are a few things to think about before making a purchase. Because they are battery-powered, they need to be charged and thus the user does need to think ahead to when the next charging opportunity will be. Also, because electric wheelchairs have multiple moving parts, regular maintenance will need to be required in order to ensure it stays in excellent working condition.
A past concern for those who use an electric wheelchair is that public transit chairlifts and designated spaces on buses were originally designed for a manual wheelchair’s size and weight. However, regulations vary from area to area and smaller, lighter electric wheelchairs usually fit within the parameters.
Of course, the pros far outweigh the cons. An electric wheelchair offers independence as the user is able to operate it by themself. The ability to fold some models also means you can travel in a smaller vehicle, such as a car or compact SUV, and easily store your device in the trunk. Electric wheelchairs are also easy to operate, have a small turning radius, meaning high manoeuvrability, and can handle all types of terrain.
A wide variety if options are also available, from wheel sizes, to tire material, to seating type, as well as accessories such as attachable totes, headrests, covers and mounts for smartphones and tablets.
Maintenance and Cleaning
Electric wheelchairs are big investments. And just as with any big investment, you’ll want to keep it clean and well maintained so it continues to perform properly. Every chair will have different suggestions and cautions in the user’s manual, so make sure to read the instructions carefully.
There are several things you or a loved one can do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to help keep your wheelchair clean. Wiping down any spills from surfaces or excess dirt from the tires will keep it looking nice and operating smoothly. A quick dust on a weekly basis is also a good idea.
For a deeper clean, use compressed air to blow dust, dirt and debris into hard to reach areas. Use a disinfectant on the seat and on any controls, just make sure not to spray liquid directly on any screens or wires.
Keep an eye out for tears on any padded areas or for anything that has become loose or broken. Even if the chair is still in working condition, small rips and broken parts can worsen over time, leading to a costly fix or even the need to replace the chair altogether.
Choosing an Electric Wheelchair
While a lot of what’s discussed above is universal information regarding electric wheelchairs, who you buy your device from plays a huge role in the quality and durability of your chair. Just as with any purchase, there are both high and low-quality options available. And while everyone likes to get a good deal, it’s best to strike a balance between affordability and longevity.
Finding a manufacturer you can trust is an important step in making your wheelchair purchase and ownership go as smoothly as possible. Travel Buggy is a Canadian owned and operated company that wanted our own family members to have the freedom and the quality of life that a lightweight, a portable power wheelchair can provide.
When we couldn’t find an electric wheelchair that was compact, easily folded and affordable – we designed one. We are so proud of what we’ve created and thrilled that others love our City and City Lite models as much as we do. Travel Buggy has the most 5-star reviews out of any electric wheelchair on the market!
We’re certain that our hassle-free return policy, our five–year warranty and our local service offerings has something to do with it. But we also know that users of our power wheelchairs simply love our products. And we know this because our biggest priority is developing personal relationships with the people who purchase Travel Buggy electric wheelchairs.