The Perfect Wheelchair Doesn’t Exist

Photo courtesy of Rob Knight

Photo courtesy of Rob Knight

There are a lot of injustices you come across when living life from the wheelchair perspective, notably the grand injustice of being relegated to the confines of a four, sometimes six, wheel-base.

Sometimes, if you get used to the wheelchair-life, you don’t realize how incredibly confining it is until you get off the pavement and on uneven terrain. And you realize that dang – you have like four directions you can go in. That is not enough. Put it this way, this Earth is no Mars and being a Rover sucks.

This unwavering fact is why the process of getting a new chair makes me so angry. Getting the exact chair you need is impossible. And it shouldn’t be this way. Being in a wheelchair is hard enough.

Of course I can’t speak for every wheelchair-user, but in my situation, getting everything I need in one singular wheelchair has proved impossible, and not because of limited funds. The inter-compatibility between wheelchair companies is to blame. I am a full-time wheelchair-user and have a few pimped-out features on my chair, including an elevator seat.

But on my new chair (received this year) I wanted tilt added – a sweet feature that lets you tilt back and get pressure off your butt. But after getting it installed, I returned home and found out it added a 1 1/2″ height, making it impossible to get things off the floor. You just can’t win. One step-forward in one area, another step back in another area. So I had the tilt removed completely. Being able to get things off the floor by myself trumps most creature wheelchair comforts.

And then there’s the dumbest issue of the unavailability of a toggle switch. Let me fill you in on a little secret – the wheelchairs they’re making today at some of these wheelchair companies aren’t as good as they were 5-7 years ago. They’re using more plastic parts, less metal pieces to save money, and these parts are harder to use, AND break down more often.

My old chair had a very quad-friendly on-off switch, now there’s an embedded button which is a pain to hit. And getting a toggle switch added – a 5 cent part – isn’t possible. My elevator seat comes from a different company than the one that made my wheelchair, and they have purposely made their electronics not easily meshed with others.

I ended up giving up a couple of big things on my new chair, making it one of the worst chair-buying experiences I’ve had, and this is my fourth new powerchair. Will wheelchairs continue to lower in quality? Is there some kind of legal action we can take as concerned consumers? Any advice is appreciated.

Have you noticed new wheelchairs aren’t as good as they used to be?

Photo courtesy of Rob Knight

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  1. Judy Gibson says:

    I’m in the process of getting a third power chair and am experiencing frustrations similar to yours, Tiffany. Although this is a year after you wrote, I thought I’d let you know that it is good to know I’m not the only one. And, when my wheelchair place guys are so nice, it’s hard for me to keep on saying no it won’t work, I need it like this – after they’ve tried to make it good. Yes, yes, the height from the floor issue; why does nobody try these out? And I’m 5’10” with long arms… So far the process has been going on for 3-4 months with still no resolution. I’m lucky that my old one is still limping around (you should excuse the expression), although I’m afraid it’s going to die any time. Thanks for the article!

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