There are three types of wheelchair:
- self-propelled – controlled by the user
- attendant-propelled – steered by someone else
- electric powered – class 2 for pavement use, and class 3 for pavement and road use
Before choosing a chair, think about whether it will be:
- for permanent or short-term use
- for indoor or outdoor use
- easy to get in and out of a car boot
- managed by the person using it, or with someone always there to help
There are advantages and disadvantages to each wheelchair, so the choice depends on what you need. For example, electric wheelchairs are good for outdoor use, but they can be heavy and awkward to transport.
Manual wheelchairs come as either standard or active-user type. A standard wheelchair can't be modified, but an active-user wheelchair can be adjusted and adapted to suit the needs of the user. Active-user wheelchairs are usually more expensive.
The design of the chair also has an impact on how it can be used. Look out for:
- large rear wheels, which make wheelchairs easier to manoeuvre
- wheels positioned further forward on an adjustable axle that need less effort to move the chair
- lightweight chairs that fold or can be dismantled easily if the wheelchair has to be lifted and transported regularly
- seat size, angle and style, and position of the foot, back and arm rests – these should all be taken into account when thinking about the comfort of the chair
If the person you care for needs an attendant-propelled wheelchair, it's important to consider your needs if you're going to be taking them out in it a lot. For example, can you move it easily, and can you lift it and put it in the boot of the car?
Before deciding on a specific style of wheelchair, try it out around the house or on the local roads. There are 40 disabled living centres around the country that have equipment on display and can give advice on the different styles of wheelchair available.
Wheelchairs for children
Disabled children's wheelchair needs are different from those of adults. They need smaller chairs that can be adapted as they grow. If you're a parent carer and your child has been assessed as needing a wheelchair, you may want to contact a charity such as Whizz-Kidz. They provide wheelchair skills training for disabled young people throughout the UK.
Tips for choosing equipment
If you think the person you care for needs adaptations to their home or specialist equipment to maintain their independence, they should be assessed by an occupational therapist. This assessment should be part of their community care assessment or hospital discharge process.
If equipment such as a stairlift is recommended as a result of the assessment, the person you care for may be offered a Disabled Facilities Grant to help cover the costs. This is means tested and they may have to make a contribution towards the cost.
Assistance and mobility equipment
The range of assistance and mobility equipment available is enormous and includes:
- beds with integrated side rails and adjustable heights
- variable posture beds, which have a mattress that can be adjusted at the touch of a button
- stairlifts, which come in a range of styles and functions to suit many different needs – they can be seated, standing, perching, or have a wheelchair platform
When installing equipment, you may need to consider the following:
- Is the condition of the person you care for likely to deteriorate? How much use will they get out of the equipment?
- Who will be operating the equipment – the carer, the cared-for person, or both?
- Does the equipment come with a guarantee and technical support?
A huge variety of household equipment can help an ill, disabled or frail elderly person, including:
- devices to help open jars and tins, turn taps or open windows
- slip-resistant mats
- wheeled trolleys for moving items that are too heavy to carry
- wire basket inserts in pans so contents can be drained easily without the need to carry a pan of boiling water to the sink
- grab rails to be attached to cars, baths, stairs or beds
- toilets with raised seats or a toilet frame, including fixed or moveable armrests
- adapted cups, cutlery and kitchen appliances