6 Tips: Green Paraplegics Buying a First Wheelchair

Before You Get a New Wheelchair, Get a Clue…

I often see paraplegics in wheelchairs who’ve been given an entirely wrong setup from the start.  Meaning, when this person was originally injured someone (ie: physical therapist, doctor, blind man with 1 hand and 1 foot, etc) ordered/purchased a new custom wheelchair on their behalf.  The newly injured person has no idea (or desire at the time) as to what measurements and features are ideal for their specific situation. Years pass before this person realizes, through experience, that their wheelchair setup could be improved drastically.  Below are some simple things to consider if newly paralyzed and in the market for a wheelchair.

6) Rigid Wheelchairs are all around better than Folding Wheelchairs, period…  If you broke an ankle, and you’re in the hospital for 2-3 weeks, then by all means use a folding wheelchair. On the other hand, if you’re in a disabled situation which requires the use of a wheelchair 24 hours a day 7 days a week for a time-frame longer than a year, do yourself a favor and purchase a rigid wheelchair.  Rigid wheelchairs have solid frames, which do not fold or collapse. This translates into less moving parts, less wear and tear, and a lighter base. Also, less moving parts means more energy transferred to the wheels with each push.  You can also purchase more aftermarket parts for a rigid wheelchair, which helps as years pass and you realize exactly what you’re modification preferences are.  Esthetically, rigid wheelchairs come in different appealing flavors, whereas folding wheelchairs usually look like they belong somewhere in a hospital or a senior assisted living community.  Most importantly, if you plan on being mobile and independent, a rigid wheelchair is absolutely the way to go.  It’s nearly impossible to collapse a folding wheelchair and place it in a vehicle without help.  On the other hand, a rigid wheelchair can easily be broken down and tossed into the backseat of a coupe/4-door/truck.

5) Light weight is your best friend. It may cost significantly more to have lighter everything… But at the end of the day, it absolutely pays dividends. In my opinion the strongest lightest wheelchair is always going to be made out of titanium (or aircraft aluminum).  Don’t purchase a heavy aluminum wheelchair, unless you prefer to roll around in a tank…  This may seem fine to the person rolling around in the tank wheelchair, but that’s only because they’ve never tried a titanium ultra-lightweight wheelchair. Also, purchase all other wheelchair parts and accessories in titanium if the option is available.  For instance, lightweight titanium handrims are more expensive than normal hand-rims… Get them if possible!  You may think to yourself, “why would I spend hundreds of dollars extra on titanium hand-rims which have a trivial difference in weight?!”  Well, I’ll tell you why… Although the difference in weight is less than 1 pound per hand-rim, I promise you’ll appreciate how much easier it is to assemble the wheelchair each and every day.  Also, high quality light-weight back wheels are much more expensive than the heavier wheels, but the difference in weight is extreme day in and day out.  I highly suggest saving up the extra cash and purchasing the best lightweight wheelchair accessories/options available.  If you can splurge on a new pair of Nike Air Jordans, Fendi purse, and/or going out to dinner, you can definitely save all the money needed for the absolute best wheelchair possible for your current injury level, without cutting corners.

4) The thinner the better.. Try to minimize the seat base width when measuring for a new wheelchair.  Meaning, only measure as wide as your hips require.  We want our wheelchair to be as mobile as possible. Many public situations require a person to roll their wheelchair through doorway thresholds and/or past miscellaneous stationary objects.  The wider you are, the more difficult this will be.  Furthermore, maneuvering through hectic swarms of walking feet can be tricky. Make sure your wheelchair is compact. Basically, the wider your wheelchair, the more logistical issues you’ll have. I spent the first 3 years of my injury in a wheelchair tank that was too heavy and too wide/long for me. I knew nothing else, and therefore I thought the wheelchair was just right. Little did I know it was much too big.  Don’t spend multiple years in the wrong size wheelchair before realizing it’s too big.

3) Purchase an extra set of mountain bike tires/wheels. They come in handy if you’re going to a park or anyplace off road. I personally use my mountain bike wheels when traveling out of the country.  Some places are less accessible than others. Sometimes it’s an old road with cracks, maybe it’s a cobblestone road, or maybe it’s bumping up/down curbs.  In these situations the wide knobby tires help immensely.  Also, mountain bike tires are much less likely to have  blow-outs, so there’s less need to travel with backup tubes.

2) Front wheels (castors) need love too… Make sure to use soft front tires, like SoftRoll, rather than heavy hard front castors. Again, they may cost a bit more, but the added cost is trivial when you think about the daily benefits. Soft front tires are more forgiving when confronted with cracks in the road/sidewalk.  Also, instead of small 3 inch diameter rollerblade style wheels, I suggest using 4-5 inch diameter front wheels.  Smaller wheels can easily get caught (stop abruptly) on trivial cracks, where as larger diameter wheels tend to ride over the same cracks.

1) Ultimately, and most importantly, a wheelchair is only as good as the person who took the measurements.  Meaning a person could purchase a super-dooper mac-daddy top of the line wheelchair, but if the measurements are wrong the person is still in bad shape. Measure correctly, or seek out someone who knows how to measure correctly. Send me and email if you’re in the South Florida area, I absolutely have the place.

These are just a couple of tips to keep in mind while shopping around for your next wheelchair.  it took me years to realize, but the choices you make during the purchase process (make/model/measurements/custom parts/etc) will absolutely have an affect on your quality of life moving forward.

Keep in mind, my opinions are subjective, and at the end of the day they are simply just that, my opinions.  It’s important for you to try all the different options to find what you like and dislike.

If in fact you’re in the market for a new wheelchair and have any questions, shoot me an email at jacob@howiroll.com.

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Showing 4 comments
  • arno
    Reply

    Jacob, you’re right about all!
    Most important when you’re green i think is you buy a rigid wheelchair and have the measurements taken by a pro.
    Next thing to do is have the balance correct.
    I just received my Tilite Tr from the states into the netherlands and it rides perfect! Much smoother then my aluminium as titanium absorbs little vibrations much better then alu.
    I’m happy with it and thanks for the tip Jacob!

  • Lindsay
    Reply

    Okay the width thing – I’ve been sedentary 2 years recovering and weigh more than I’d like. I’m looking at at 18×16 seat. Should I try to squeeze into something smaller? The standard folding I have is 20×18 and looks ridiculous. Also I know camber affects width – I could use the extra balance and maneuverability but don’t want to be too wide – what would you suggest?

    • Jacob
      Reply

      Only thing I can say is that it’ll be easier to get in and out of hall ways and doorways with a thinner frame/wheelbase. With that being said, I’d purchase the slimmest width that you can actually use. This will make moving around easier and agility better.

  • TODD CASTNER
    Reply

    WHAT IS YOUR OPINION REGARDING A PERMOBILE POWERCHAIR
    THANK YOU…..TODD

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