Wheelchair Safety With Power Wheelchairs
Folding Lightweight Wheelchairs
For indoor wheelchair safety the folding power wheelchair models that are lightweight have front casters which turn easily, making them ideal for use in small apartments. Having the casters in front makes this a dangerous chair to use outdoors as the front wheels can turn sharply if encountering a crack in the sidewalk, incline, or rocks.
They usually have one or two removable batteries and have a similar appearance as the manual wheelchair. They can be controlled with a joystick or a sip and puff method.
Lightweight Power Assisted Wheelchairs
These chairs can be propelled in a similar manner as the manual wheelchair or use a battery. You may want this type if you want to keep fit and get some exercise but need some power when going up an incline or when traveling a distance. They are smaller and lighter weight than the folding wheelchair and have smaller batteries and motors.
Dual Purpose Power Wheelchairs
These indoor/outdoor power chairs compromise wheelchair safety and perform poorly when you do not have enough room to turn indoors and you need to travel over rough ground and uneven surfaces.
Their optimum performance indoors is when you have wider doors and hallways in assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or homes/apartments. Ideal outdoor surfaces in urban and suburban areas would include sidewalks and paved areas.
Outdoor Power Wheelchairs
These chairs weigh as much as 400-500 pounds, add the weight of the user up to 250 pounds and the total weight is approximately 650 pounds. They are very efficient outdoors with their rear wheels they can safely climb up to 40% grades and curbs.
The wheelchair safety for steering comes from the rear wheel dolly or by braking with one front wheel and turning with the other. Some options include elevating seats, back/headrests and leg rests. Due to their weight, should they require maintenance, a tow truck may need to be called.
Indoor Stair Climbing Power Chairs
The past 30 years has produced some stair climbing wheelchairs. Liability insurance has prohibited some manufacturers from pursuing the development of this type of power mobility device. Users are at a high risk of serious injury or death if they occupy the wheelchair while climbing stairs. Others in the area are also at risk for injury or death.
There are several things to consider before you are purchase a stair climbing power chair. A few of the most important factors include the strength to control the manual controls to turn or brake quickly. Your vision needs to be clear enough to see defects or objects on the stairs that would cause an accident. You should be able to understand the dynamics of how the power chair climbs the stairs.
Other considerations include using familiar versus unfamiliar stairs on a regular basis, keeping the stairs/steps clutter free and training from a professional. Who will climb the stairs first...the therapist, engineer, user?
Most power chairs are controlled by the user without the use of computers, etc. The wheelchair safety of this operation is dependent upon the quick reaction and alertness of the user to recognize dangerous situations. A young, healthy, alert paraplegic with good upper body strength is at less risk for injury than an older powerchair user who is weak and has decreased reaction time.
Factor out the cost of the computer system that responds and can be programmed to recall different terrains, stairs, etc. it is generally recommended to have this feature on your power chair. Theoretically it is ideal, however, reality says there is always the possibility of it failing at a critical time. You should consult your power mobility trainer, therapist or physician for the best recommendations for you.
It is important to provide good support for your arms, not only for posture, but for the safe operation and control of your power scooter or wheelchair. There are several styles of arm supports systems that can be installed depending upon your specific need. Ask your power wheelchair professional what would be best for you.
Wheelchair Brake Systems
Critical to wheelchair safety is knowing your brake system. Manual braking systems can be configured and installed on all power wheelchairs or scooters. Be sure that you or the user can operate them efficiently should the need arise. Most joy sticks move the power chairs forward, backward, turning left and right and when released the power chair stops or brakes.
Ask your power wheelchair vendor about manual or mechanical brakes. Dynamic brakes do not lock the wheels of your chair or keep it from rolling down a steep incline. For quadriplegics unable to use the standard manual brakes, a user controlled small electric motor can be installed.
Power Wheelchair Brake Systems
A safety shut off should be installed for the person using other methods of control than the typical hand control. The normal user can control the movement and braking system with hands.
The quadriplegic should have special shut off controls that have electronic sensors that detect when the chair is out of control and can immediately “shut off” or stop the power wheelchair. Again, being persistent and getting these wheelchair safety features installed is only to your benefit.
Power wheelchairs used outdoors should have powered large wheels in front, never a caster style wheel that can get caught in cracks or uneven surfaces. Caster wheels in front are best used on indoor chairs and when outside on smooth, solid surfaces. Front caster wheels are designed for improved maneuverability indoors.
Wheelchair Safety With Disabilities
For optimum wheelchair safety you should have a seatbelt fastened around your waist and around your chest. As with all belts the user should be able to quickly release in case of an emergency.
Healthy, fit, active paraplegics are at the lowest risk of injury when operating a manual or power wheelchair.
Amputees with missing arms or legs are a low risk if they have good upper body control and strength and the wheelchair is set up for their individual needs.
Individuals with Parkinson's Disease, Cerebral Palsy, or Multiple Sclerosis are at a mild to moderate risk depending upon the advancement of the disease. These individuals tend to have decreased strength and motor control. An assessment for wheelchair safety is recommended.
Those individuals with very little upper body movement, using specialized systems such as sip and puff and or-gyroscopic (inertia) wheelchair controls are a high risk. Paralyzed children and adults, as well as very small adults requiring specialized seating most often use power wheelchairs and are high risk for injury.
I recommend consulting an experienced professional for specialized wheelchairs when this is your mobility method. Don't settle for the “basic manual or power wheelchair from the shelf”.
Ultimately, the user needs to be responsible for their own wheelchair safety and consider many different factors.