Just as people come in a multitude of flavors, so do wheelchairs (especially power wheelchairs).
Yes, they all do the same primary task of transporting the user from point A to point B, but each can have drastically different characteristics.
To make the proper decision in choosing a wheelchair that is right for you and your lifestyle, you need to know the specific differences of each type of wheel drive and configuration.
We here at HPFY can give you the rundown on your options to help you choose.
What are the Key Components of Power Wheelchair?
Understanding your wheelchair (power or manual) is quite important since it will be your prime mode of mobility.
By knowing the ins and outs of your chair, you can potentially avoid breakdowns or expensive service calls.
Regardless of what power wheelchair, you may own, there are some common parts to the drive system that each chair shares. These parts include, but are not limited to:
These are the main part of the drive system that causes the chair to go forward, backward, or anywhere else you want to roam.
Most power wheelchair users can use a stick-style joystick, but options can include a goalpost joystick for those who may have diminished fine motor skills.
These look just like a football goalpost where the user can rest their hand and manipulate the chair without grasping the joystick.
Also, some users may need a head array that uses touchpads in the headrest to direct the chair where they would like to go.
The electric motors are usually connected directly to the larger wheels on the wheelchair, and these smaller caster wheels are used to stabilize the unit.
They can be in front of the rear and even both.
These usually have an independent suspension that allows the chair to go over rough terrain and obstacles smoothly.
This is the electronic brain of the power wheelchair.
It takes the joystick/head array input and determines which electric motor/drive wheel should be activated and in which direction.
Often, these can control any optional power seating options the chair may have (tilt, recline, or even leg extensions).
What are the Drive options available in Power Wheelchairs?
Power wheelchairs are not all created equal.
There are different specifications and styles to each one.
Knowing and understanding the differences in the setup of the wheel drive of your power wheelchair will go a long way in helping you make the correct decision.
There are three main types of power wheelchair drives, and they are:
In this configuration, the drive wheels are located towards the front of the seat.
Obviously, with the drive wheels upfront, the casters are located in the rear.
Front-wheel-drive power wheelchairs usually can handle a curbing of 2 inches and can be a stable ride whether traversing uphill or downhill when the batteries are located towards the rear to counterbalance any weight forward due to the electric motors.
The turning radius of a front-wheel-drive wheelchair can be slightly larger and susceptible to fishtailing.
These have electric motors and drive wheels located under the seat and are often referred to as a center drive chair.
Of the three different types of drives, this setup has probably the tightest turning radius, which can be a selling point for those who live in an apartment or any intimate surroundings.
One downside is that it may make traversing rough terrain slightly more difficult since it could sink or lose traction over loose impediments.
These chairs are usually transported with a handicapped-accessible van and sometimes have a weight limit of 600 pounds.
This style of wheelchair drive has the casters upfront and the drive wheels located in the rear.
While traveling at higher speeds, this type of drive allows for greater mobility, but it does have a larger turning radius.
One other plus is that rear-wheel-drive setups have directional stability, which means it is less susceptible to oversteering and tracks straighter naturally, all while handling rougher, outdoor terrain.
Understanding the pros and cons of each type of drive system can help you determine what type of power wheelchair may be beneficial to your situation and lifestyle.
Your physical therapist can measure you to assure that the chair is fitted to you and that any features on the chair are appropriate for your physical abilities and safety.