Product Review - To Infinity and Beyond
Suppliers all emphasise the importance of customising wheelchairs according to disability, needs, skills and lifestyle - one size does not fit all! Buying the incorrect chair can be a very expensive exercise! One of the easiest ways to add power to your push is to be seated correctly. Emily Coetzer, Occupational Therapist (OT) and Seating Consultant at Chairman Industries tells us first and foremost every wheelchair user should put their posture and seating as a priority. The long term effects of incorrect seating are detrimental to your health, contributing to factors such as contractures, scoliosis, kyphosis and pressure sores to name a few. Balanced and safe seating on a good base will enable the user to be more active. The correct height of the backrest, correct use of back support systems for higher level injuries, correct seat length and width all add to the stability and, therefore, mobility of the user.
There are also the more obvious and simpler adaptations which will add power and smoothness to your push. Firstly maintain the recommended tyre pressure and secondly, move the axle to a more active position as your skill on the wheelchair improves. These settings will take some experimentation but, in consultation with a knowledgeable wheelchair specialist, it will be worth the time spent.
Rubberised push rims improve traction when pushing, particularly if you have limited hand function but as Erika Geertsen, OT at CE Moblity says, this is not recommended for speed freaks as, with increased speed of pushing, the rubber will heat up!
Gloves are a relatively quick option for powering up your hand, not only do they assist in preventing injury and give protection from blisters, but the gel and rubberised pads provide extra traction.
The Wilgo Wheelchair is the only non-electric power assist option we found available locally. The Wilgo comes as a unit and cannot be added to your existing chair. It has two handles (levers) that you push using flexion and extension of your shoulders in order to move the wheelchair. It does not require shoulder rotation and so should minimise shoulder strain; it also allows you to sit upright whilst pushing your chair. The handles fold down when not in use.
Switch a toggle on the hub of the wheels and the chair converts from a standard manual chair to the lever propelled transmission system. The switch also prevents the chair rolling backward, even on hills, and hydraulic bicycle-type brakes are conveniently placed on the handles. It is good for rough terrain and distance, as you can easily shift between the regular and transmission option. The Wilgo comes in a number of sizes up to a maximum of 100kg and the supplier, Sitwell Technologies, do have a demo model to try out. Retail: R30,000.
There are many benefits to using a power assisted manual chair including fewer shoulder injuries, decreased shoulder and wrist pain, less exertion, lower heart rate over longer distances and varied terrain, and up to 60% reduction in exercise intensity.
Like driving a car, wheelchair users' reactions must match their speed - this requires good eyesight and reflexes when you add electric power. Paraplegics and amputees should have no problem with the controls, but people with less than 20/20 vision and weak or uncoordinated arms need to understand that the extra power may put them in some tricky situations! The user needs good wheelchair dexterity to cope with the additional power, especially when stopping. The added weight also means added strain when loading and unloading from a vehicle. Pushing can be difficult on a flat battery, so keep an eye it and charge regularly and consider a spare battery.
E-motion and E-Fix wheels replace the existing wheels of your manual chair. The E-Motion is operated by pushing on the push rim as before whilst the E-Fix uses a joystick. Both systems require the fitting of a bracket. Both the E-Motion and E-Fix have many accessories available, from car chargers to spoke guards.
The E-Motion has electrical motors and batteries built into the wheel hub. A slight push to the wheel rim engages the motor, allowing you to retain the look and independence of a manual wheelchair but enjoy the benefits of added power. Pushing and breaking are the same but it will take practice to get used to the extra power. Intelligent sensors on the push rims read the level of exertion and request corresponding power assistance from the motors on the wheel hub, a kind of power steering for wheelchairs up to a speed of 6km/h.
The E-motion adds 2-4 cm to the width of your chair and 22kg of weight, 11kg per wheel. Problems with the E-Motion may require a back-up chair if the original wheels no longer fit. There is a 130kg weight limit and users must be able to use the push rims proficiently, essential when stopping! With 25V, 6Ah Lithium-Ion batteries and a 60W motor on each wheel it has an impressive 25 km battery range. Batteries can be charged simultaneously (up to 6 hours) and there is a car charger available.
You can upgrade the E-motion with the Ergonomic Control System (ECS). This is a remote control unit that allows for two assistance levels and 10 variable programmes. It can be used to activate rollback delay, monitoring of the battery and can prevent interference with other devices.
E-motion maintenance is done locally. There are no demo models and delivery takes 4-6 weeks. Retail starts at R60,000.
E-fix also has specialised drive wheels but is powered via a battery pack suspended beneath the seat, rather than on the wheels, and is operated from a joystick on the control unit attached to your wheelchair armrest. The E-fix allows for easy conversion between powered and manual by uncoupling the drive wheels. The larger motor and battery pack will take up to 210kg and the standard unit, 120kg. It adds 2-5cm to the width of your wheelchair and an extra 27-30kg. Users must be able to operate a joystick and read and understand the fully programmable LED display. With its 110 or 150W motor and 2 24V, 12Ah or 22Ah batteries it has a battery range of 16-26 km and speeds of up to 6km/h. The batteries take 8-16 hours to charge and a car charger is available. An attendant control is also available. There are no demo models and delivery takes 4-6 weeks. Retail starts at R55,000.
The Quickie Xtender power assistance is activated via the push rims and makes the exerted force up to three times stronger. It has automatic wheel synchronisation to compensate for arm strength imbalance, ensuring smooth and straight propulsion. To use the chair on manual the power assist option is turned off next to the brakes. The Quickie Xtender adds no extra width, adds only 17kg to the weight and recharges in 2-3 hours. It can only be fitted to the Quickie range of chairs.
Maximum user weight is 120kg and users need good wheelchair skills to handle the additional power. It is the only product with a 30Amp plug in fuse and, with its NiMh 24V 6,7Ah batteries and 150W power it allows for speeds of up to 6km/h.
It is fitted, serviced and maintained locally by CE Mobility who keep some parts in stock. There are no demo models and delivery takes 4-6 weeks. Retail starts at R70,000.
The Meyra Ortopedia Servomatic Auxiliary Drive is activated via the push rims, adds 14.9kg and 3,5cm width to your chair. The Servomatic can be fitted to any wheelchair but this may require the costly engineering of a bracket. The drive is recommended for the Eurochair, Domino, Dominik, Format 2 Vario, Primus 2 and Joy manual wheelchairs, available from GH Medical. Wheel sizes are 22"or 24" and the motor can be fitted left or right with the battery pack on the opposite wheel. The wheels are quick release and the battery and motor are disconnected through a simple plug mechanism, allowing for easy transportation. An on/off button switches off assistance. The 90W motor and NiMH 6.7Ah (24V) battery allows for a maximum speed of 6 km/h, the battery lasts for 15 km and takes only 2-3 hours to recharge.
There are no demo models, delivery takes 4 weeks and servicing can be done at the supplier, GH Medical.
The Benoit Light Drive is a horizontal power pack that attaches to brackets clipped onto the uprights of the backrest with its rollers on the wheels and a joystick on the armrest. The combination of motor and wheel traction powers the wheelchair. As the extra power, directly on the tyres, means more wear Schwalbe tyres, at a pressure of 10lb, are recommended. It also comes with a rear anti-tip wheel - you don't want to be doing wheelies with that extra power! Simply release the clutch to convert to manual. The unit allows for users of up to 120kg and requires joystick abilities. It is easily fitted to most chairs (minimum seat width of 25cm), adds 11.4 - 16.9 kg and does not increase the chair width. A 100W motor, using two 24V Lithium Ion batteries, allows for speeds of up to 10km/h! The batteries take between 4-10 hours to charge and will last between 6-15 km. There is a demo unit, delivery takes 4-6 weeks and servicing should be done every six months by the supplier, Sitwell. Retail, including fitting and Schwalbe tyres, is R48,750.
ADDED POWER FOR ATTENDANTS
Sick of being dragged backwards over rough and uneven surfaces? The P001 Power Pack is a twin-wheel system that attaches below the seat of the manual chair to provide additional traction and power. The attendant propels the wheelchair via a lever on the handle. Brackets, with a quick release system, are fitted to the wheelchair frame. The unit adds no width and weighs 14kgs. The attendant controls the speed and forward and backward motion. The unit allows for users of up to 136kgs and can be fitted to any 16-22 wheelchair. The 280W motor and 12V/20Ah battery has a range of 16 km.
All fitting, maintenance and servicing is done at Mobility One and it packs easily into the travel bag supplied. Although the attendant may need time to get used to it, it is very easy to operate BUT they MUST allow extra STOPPING time.
The product is ex-stock from Mobility One, there is no waiting time and a demo model is available! Retails from R7,950.
Local is always Lekker. Online shopping offers a wider selection but look for a local person who has used the product and can let you try it out. Never buy a costly product that you have not tested! Read online product reviews and always ask the supplier about maintenance and servicing.