Getting started with Powerchairs

How do I choose the right powerchair for me?

A powerchair or electric wheelchair can bring independence and freedom to those who are currently reliant on others. Once you have decided on a powerchair rather than a mobility scooter or wheelchair, you need to start thinking about exactly what type of powerchair you need. You need to consider aspects such as price, the style and size of the powerchair, how portable the powerchair is, and how far it goes between charges.

A powerchair can be used by someone who hasn’t got the dexterity or mobility necessary to drive a mobility scooter. A powerchair user might also have special seating or arm and leg rest requirements that are better served by a powerchair than a mobility scooter. Powerchairs are usually more customisable than disabled scooters, and can offer different types of control method and seating.

Up until recently, electric wheelchairs were predominantly designed for indoor use, this has now changed as the technology and user requirements have changed. It is now possible to buy powerchairs that are equally suited to indoor and outdoor use. Nowadays, electric wheelchairs are available with a range of well over 20 miles and a speed of up to 6mph. These powerchairs come with outdoor style wheels and tyres and look more rugged and suitable for outdoor use. They sometimes have additional rear wheels to aid stability when off road for example. These models are much more suitable for outdoor use than indoor use.

As powerchair users often spend more time in their powerchairs, the powerchair needs to be right for the environment that it’s going to be used in. There is no point having a high performance powerchair if it’s too big to use indoors, or a small compact powerchair if it is to be used primarily outdoors. The powerchair performance may be an important factor if it is to replace a car, or provide independence and allow extended journeys.

Powerchairs are usually controlled by a joystick on the armrest which can be fitted on either armrest to suit left or right handed use. The arm rest can usually be swung out of the way so that the user can get closer to a desk or table for example. If a joystick control isn’t appropriate for the user’s needs, there are other methods of operating the powerchair, including a head controller, a sip and puff tube, fingertip control or foot control.

Powerchairs charge in the same way that mobility scooters do. The battery charger will usually plug into the powerchair control unit whilst the batteries are attached. This means that the user doesn’t have to worry about lifting or refitting batteries.

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What is the difference between a powerchair and a mobility scooter?

Mobility scooters and powerchairs are often grouped together to differentiate them from traditional self-propelled, or pushed manual wheelchairs. There are however some fundamental differences between a mobility scooter and a powerchair.

Mobility scooters have three or four wheels and are steered using a bicycle style handlebar (or tiller) which requires two hands, and are designed to travel up to 35 miles. They are often used by people with limited mobility, or those who tire easily when walking. Depending on the model and type of mobility scooter, the scooter may disassemble into easy-to-manage components so that it can be easily transported in a car, or stored at home.

Powerchairs usually look more like traditional wheelchairs, and some models even look just like a traditional wheelchair with batteries and a motor attached to each wheel. The powerchair is driven using one hand by a joystick controller on the arm of the powerchair. Powerchair users tend to spend more time in their chairs than scooter users spend on their scooters. Because of this, powerchairs are usually more adaptable than mobility scooters and some models can have specialist seats and controllers fitted to suit the individual requirements of the user. Powerchairs are also more likely to be used inside although some powerchairs are equally capable indoors and outdoors. Mobility scooters are more likely to be used outdoors, although some of the smaller ones can be used indoors.