Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Taking Control of Purchasing a Wheelchair; Tips for Parents about Mobility Equipment

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Taking Control of Purchasing a Wheelchair; Tips for Parents about Mobility Equipment

Article excerpt

The announcement by a doctor or therapist that your child needs a wheelchair or mobility aid can cause a number of feelings. Very few of them are pleasant. Perhaps a few tips on how to take control of the situation can help you avoid feeling helpless.

If we were to sit together and talk about your child's wheelchair, here's how the conversation might go - "A WHEELCHAIR IS SCARY__"

Yes. It is. I can remember how much my parents and I fought against it. If a wheelchair weren't used, wouldn't I have to learn to walk? 1, like many children, did not have the muscle ability to walk. Actually, the typical experience of therapists is that wheelchairs conserve and use energy productively. Kids almost always work harder at overall mobility if they have the freedom provided by a wheelchair. Playing, going to school, and participating in activities with peers is made possible by using a wheelchair - and the participation becomes the motivating factor.

Being told your child will have to use a wheelchair will probably never be even remotely considered as a joyous event. However, watching a child, who's been totally restricted to being carried or conveyed, master independent mobility in a lightweight or power wheelchair is a happy event. I have gotten misty-eyed watching young wheelchair jockeys take off to play with their friends. Or, as one mother said when her two-year-old son was introduced to power and decided to go visit relatives a mile away, "Now I have a toddler - a typical Terrible Two.' I love it!"

"HOW DO I CHOOSE A WHEELCHAIR?"

Even though the child's therapist is going to prescribe the chair, you have the right to make the final choice. You're going to be living with that chair and, if the coexistence between chair and family is going to be peaceful, you need to make some well-informed demands.

"WHERE DO WE START?"

If the chair is hard - or impossible for you to handle, it won't help your child much, will it? To avoid that possibility, take an inventory of when, where and how you will use the chair.

How do you transport your child? If it's in the family car, the wheelchair should go in the trunk or back seat. Manual chairs may fold from side-to-side and lie flat in the trunk, or the back only may fold down (and the chair may be too bulky to fit in the trunk), or the chair may not fold at all. Your choice with a non-folding chair may be to acquire a van or a second, lightweight, folding chair to transport your child.

Some wheelchairs fold, but their seating system may be so difficult to remove that the chair is, in effect, non-folding. Some stroller-type wheelchairs are sold as car transport chairs, because Mom or Dad can lift the front wheels into the foot space in the front of the car, collapse the rear wheels, and lift the child and chair onto the front seat, while securing the chair with the auto seat belts. While this may be best for your child, make sure that you actually can maneuver the child and chair into your specific car. It may not work with some compacts. It's also difficult with larger children.

How much does the chair weigh? The rule of thumb seems to be that the lighter weight the chair, the higher the price. Funding agencies frequently want to buy the least expensive wheelchair. There are some instances when it may be argued to the funding agency that a lighter weight wheelchair is necessary not only for the child's ability to propel it, but for the parents' ability to handle it.

Where do you live? This is a determining factor in the choice of a wheelchair for your child. I have seen a family be sold a 200-pound, non-folding power chair when they lived in a fourth-floor, walk-up apartment. It was stolen from the apartment lobby shortly after it was delivered, because the family had to leave it there overnight.

Think the situation through. Do you have a ramp or lift? Or, will Mom and Dad have to pull the wheelchair up steps? …

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