A wheelchair is a mobility device designed to help physically challenged people. These devices can be used in a variety of instances including, but not limited to; hospitals, road accidents, aiding people with physical disorders, emergency and so on.
Wheelchairs are divided into two different types based on the power used for mobility: manual and electric.
The first manually operated wheelchair was made for Phillip ll, King of Spain, by an unknown inventor in 1595. Ever since, many variations have been designed, but all were self-powered, requiring patient to manually turn the wheels in order to move.
In 1953, Canadian inventor George Klein alongside others in his group, Klein Drive Chair, designed the electric-powered wheelchair to assist injured veterans during World War II.
A motorized wheelchair, electric wheelchair, power chair or electric-powered wheelchair (EPW) is a wheelchair that runs by means of electric motor. Motorized wheelchairs are useful for those who are unable to propel manually or require travelling for a long distance.
EPWs have various powered functions which are useful and necessary for health and functionality. Examples include different degrees of tilting, as well as leg and seat elevation. The design of a power chair is based on a systematic approach where emphasis is placed on understanding the user requirement. It may be categorized by drive system, seat, tilt, controller, battery and use.
Generally, power chairs can either be four or six wheeled and non-folding, although some of them can be folded.
Today you will find four general styles of electric powered chair by drive systems: front, centre, rear and all-wheel drive. Each style has its own particular handling characteristics.
The seating on a power chair can vary. Some models have a sling-style seat and frame, others have a “captain’s chair” seat similar to that in an automobile. The seating may be made of vinyl or nylon, some chairs have optional padding, others have comfortable cushions and backrest options including a head rest. Leg rests may be integrated into the seating design as well and may have powered adjustments to vary leg positions.
Power chairs may have a tilt-in-space or reclining option for people who are unable to stay in an upright seating position. This can help with comfort by shifting pressure to different areas.
Generally, the user of a power chair controls speed and direction by operating a joystick on the armrest which can be fitted on either the left or right hand side.
Many other input devices can be used if the user lacks coordination of hands or fingers, such as chin controls and puff/sip scanners, which work by blowing into a sensor. In some cases, the controller may be mounted for use by an attendant walking behind the chair. The "thought-control" of power chair works through the detection of brainwaves or nerve signals via sensors on the scalp or elsewhere.
The electric motors of power chairs are powered by 12-80 ampere-hour, rechargeable deep-cycle batteries. The user does not need additional help in transporting or recharging the electrical wheelchair. The battery charger will usually plug into the power chair control unit when the batteries are installed.
A power chair or electric wheelchair can bring independence and freedom to people who are reliant on others. There is a wide selection of EPWs ranging from small and portable models, which can be folded or disassembled, to very large and heavy, full-featured chairs (these are often called 'rehab' chairs).
If you decided to buy a power chair as opposed to a mobility scooter or wheelchair, there are several decisions that need to be made. These include price, style and size of the power chair, how portable it is, and how long it can last in between charges. The price depends on style and size.
Traditionally, power chairs were not designed to be transported and so they were very difficult to dismantle. Now, most electric wheelchairs are transportable and dismantle.
Until now electric wheelchairs were designed for indoor use only, now this situation has changed as the technology and user requirements have changed. Now it is possible to buy power chairs that are equally suited to indoor and outdoor use.
A typical indoor power chair is narrow and short to enable better maneuvering around tight spaces. Controls are usually simple, but for outdoor this chair would be less stable. Tires are smoother (called "carpet tires") to look after flooring in a home.
Outdoor power chairs have a large wheelbase to help with stability and large tires.
Indoor/outdoor electric power chair can be as small in design as possible, but with a reasonable range in the batteries and some grippy tires.
At the present time, electric wheelchairs are available with a range of well over 20 miles and a speed of up to 6mph. These power chairs come with outdoor style wheels and tires and look more strong and suitable for outdoor use. Sometimes they have additional rear wheels to aid stability when off road, for example. These models are much more suitable for outdoor use than indoor use. Rear or mid wheel drive power chairs are the most popular and ideal for using outdoors as well as indoors.
Most models of electric wheelchairs have a lot of additional options available. These include different leg rests, armrests, oxygen tank holders, and different seating systems. Some power chairs are available with elevating seats so that the
user can reach items on a work surface or shelf that would normally be out of reach. Different users need an assortment of seating choices, as well as leg and arm rest options for better comfort and stability. A powered seat, tilt /recline back, or electric leg rests may be an optional accessory. If the user is going to spend a lot of time in the power chair then a wheelchair cushion, especially a memory foam cushion, will ensure comfort and help to prevent pressure sores.
Another option for someone who uses a traditional style of wheelchair is to add a battery pack and motor to the wheelchair. Power-assisted wheelchairs are essentially manual wheelchairs with a motor that provides propulsion assistance when desired. This allows a user to move the wheelchair quickly and easily and helps with obstacles such as steep ramps.
For individuals with shoulder pain this can be a good compromise between a manual and power wheelchair. Power-assisted wheelchairs are bulkier and less maneuverable than manual chairs, however they are less bulky, easier to transport and are more maneuverable than power wheelchairs.
Selecting the right chair, especially for a first-time wheelchair user can be confusing. It is always a good idea to work with an occupational therapist who has experience and knowledge of the various kinds of wheelchairs.