Which one is right for me?
by Amy Bekier, San Diego chapter director
No one chooses to use a wheelchair, and many who are still mobile opt for a scooter hoping it’s not the end of their walking life—and to avoid the perceived stigma of using a chair. Once you have crossed the threshold to purchase a ‘personal people mover,’ however, your world will open. Scooters tend to be heavy and difficult to break apart to put into a car, make a U turn in an elevator, or navigate in a restaurant. A far better option is the foldable travel electric power wheelchair. This article reviews questions to ask when you are considering this option. It is by no means definitive, as new models are popping up even as I write this.
Think of a folding power wheelchair as a scooter replacement but with a smaller footprint that can turn on a dime. They are usually lighter in weight, ranging from 50 to 65 lbs, whereas a scooter can be 90 to 125 lbs. or more. Folding chairs have drawbacks. They do not elevate and most do not recline. They cannot be customized (except for accessories), nor are they comfortable enough for full-time use. However, they are ideal for someone who still has some walking ability and is looking for part-time transport. And because they can be folded, they are convenient to take on a trip, including air travel (which we all dream of doing again soon!).
Be prepared for a foldable power wheelchair to cost in the range of $1,500-$3,900. Some chairs may be covered by insurance with a doctor’s durable medical prescription or through the VA. Ask how to file for insurance and whether there is financing.
When contemplating a purchase of a folding power wheelchair, the most important questions to ask (if you are in the US) are:
- Is it FDA cleared?
- Is there US customer service and, if so, where is it located?
- Do they have parts available in a US warehouse?
- What and how long does the warranty cover?
- How long has the company been in business?
- What is the projected battery life? Is it lithium ion or equivalent? How fast will it charge?
- What is the distance that it can travel on a charge?
- What does the chair weigh with/without battery. If it’s too light it may take bumps poorly.
- What is the weight carrying capacity?
- How does it fold/open?
- Does it have a quick joystick release for easier transport?
- Do the armrests lift for easy transfer if necessary?
- Will the footrest flip under the seat instead of swinging away making it easier to get in/out?
- Are the tires solid so there is no worry about flat tires?
- What is the height of the seat? Can I stand from that height?
If you plan to take the chair on a trip, you will want to know:
- What type of battery does it use? Most airlines accept only sealed dry cell batteries. Some may require you carry on the battery before stowing the chair. Check each airline for maximum acceptable wattage.
- Is the charger compatible in other countries?
The next consideration is how to stow it in a vehicle. Is there someone who can lift it in/out? I have a Bruno Curbsider lift in the rear of my SUV. Until recently I was able to manipulate it quite easily. Now I’m pursuing a ramp or other modification to maintain independence. I recommend before purchasing a vehicle to decide what type of equipment you will want and visit a mobility specialist to make sure the lift and the chair will fit your car.
- Seat Belt
- An extension footrest to accommodate longer legs
- More comfortable cushion
- Drink holder
What did I end up buying?
I decided on the EZLite DX12 for more rugged travel with larger 12” rear wheels. I named her Corrina. I always name my equipment because they are my friends, allowing me the freedom to roam. Corrina is constructed with airline alloy metal. She weighs 65 lbs. and lasted through a South African Safari. My only issue is that it does not do well on sharp inclines or cobblestone walkways.
It doesn’t matter to me whether the chair is 50 lbs. or 65 lbs. because I am unable to lift either one. I did not choose the Zinger because it requires both hands to steer. My hands are too weak and need a joystick instead. I did not purchase Air Hawk because at the time you could only contact them via email with no US customer service. The FoldandGo has received rave reviews from many who have purchased it. It has a magnesium frame and states that it is waterproof. That was my second choice.
The following are a few models available.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Which one is right for you? The right one is the one that you choose to purchase after doing your research.