It was over 20 years ago, when I was a University student, that I first came across a fellow student who used a power wheelchair. She was ever so elegant in an indoor electric wheelchair, manoeuvring efficiently through the university’s residence halls, libraries and lecture theatres. I thought to myself, “Whoa! I have got to have one of these!” Several years later, having been struck by a nasty neurological disorder, I had to make my own decision. What type of wheelchair should I use? I couldn’t go for a manual wheelchair so I had to select a powered one. But what type? Maybe an Invacare electric wheelchair?
1. Outdoor vs. indoor electric wheelchair
Choosing a wheelchair is a fundamental decision for everyone facing mobility disabilities, because making the right choice will definitely improve the person’s function, quality of life and overall long-term outcome.
Did you know, that the first mass produced indoor wheelchair was invented in post civil war America? That was a long time ago, but the first mass-market powered wheelchair appeared in the late fifties. Wheelchair designs have come a long way since then, and now there are electric wheelchairs that are designed for indoor, outdoor, or both indoor and outdoor use.
Mid wheel drive electric wheelchairs
A mid wheel or centre wheel powered wheelchair has three sets of wheels. The chair is driven by the centre wheels, while there are also two sets of smaller wheels, one set in the front and one in the back, for balance and stability purposes. The main advantage of this type of wheelchair is that it is highly manoeuvrable because it provides a much smaller turning radius, thus making it ideal for manoeuvring in and out of tight spaces. On the other hand, high manoeuvrability comes at the expense of weight distribution, as this type of wheelchair is less stable than other types.
Rear and front wheel drive electric wheelchairs
Rear wheel and front wheel powered wheelchairs have two sets of wheels. The chair is driven by the rear or front wheels. The caster wheels are located either at the front, or at the back of the chair. These types of chairs are ideal for outdoor use because they provide greater stability than the mid wheel drive wheelchairs, and are more suitable for driving longer distances. Front wheel drive chairs are better for climbing curbs. The thing is that both of these types of chairs, especially the rear wheeled, lack in manoeuvrability. Their turning radius is very large and therefore this makes it very hard to make sharp turns or move in tight spaces.
2. Why a wheelchair primarily for indoor use will cater for most of your needs
When selecting an indoor electric wheelchair type, you have to determine your own specific needs, but from my experience I would suggest that you opt for the mid wheel drive type of chair. Why is that? The thing is that we spend most of our time indoors. Consider the area that you live in or you usually visit:
- Will you be able to get in and out of a lift easily?
- Will you be able to use a toilet, even if it is not specifically adapted for the disabled?
- Will you be able to move around your house from one room to another without any problems?
- Will you be able to drive through supermarket aisles without any disturbance to yourself or others?
These are factors that you need to take into consideration in order to make an informed decision. These questions can be answered in a more efficient way, by the use of a mid wheel drive chair but don’t forget that a mid wheel drive chair is also suitable for outdoor use as well.
3. Maneuverability of the indoor wheelchair
In addition, there are other reasons besides maneuverability. Depending on your actual height and weight, you should also consider how compact your wheelchair should be.
- What is its width, length and weight?
- Can it be folded?
- Do you need to dismantle it in order to transport it in the boot of your car, or do you need to drive in a vehicle via a ramp or lift?
- Will you be able to fit under tables or work desks without trouble?
In my quest, I found this website very useful. Be sure to consult an expert, (for example an occupational therapist) who will help you determine which chair will be ideal in any setting you desire. Of course, cost is a factor that you need to take into account since these chairs can be very expensive. And finally, test drive, test drive, test drive a lot of wheelchairs before deciding!
Invacare electric wheelchair
If you want to check the models of indoor electric wheelchairs that Invacare has in its catalog, click here.