Monday, September 10, 2012

Wheelchair Review

We ordered Caleb's first wheelchair right before he turned 2 years old. We knew absolutely nothing about wheelchairs. We didn't know the different brands. We didn't know the different options and accessories available. We knew nothing. We did a lot of research on our own through the web, visiting different websites to learn about the chairs available to Caleb. I suddenly became aware of every person I saw in a wheelchair and found myself approaching people in Target and asking them about their wheelchair. I asked them what brand of chair they had and if they like it. I'm certain people thought I was crazy but I had no way of knowing what would be the right chair for Caleb. Rigid or Folding? Aluminum or Titanium? Pneumatic or Solid tire? It was overwhelming. Ordering a wheelchair is very much like buying a new car...except you don't get to test drive it first. After a couple of months of researching we ordered Caleb's first chair.

TiLite Aero Z
Seriously, I can't stand the cuteness right now. Look at my Caleb when he was only 2 1/2 years old!

The Aero Z is a rigid chair, aluminum frame. We chose red. Glenn called it Ferrari red, Caleb called it Elmo red. This first chair had some extra bells and whistles that we were able to take off as Caleb got more stable (the head rest, side and hip supports). This chair served Caleb very well for 4 1/2 years. It was a great chair but we definitely learned a few thing over the course of those years. We learned things we liked...and many things we didn't. So, as Caleb grew out of the red chair we had some very specific things in mind as we began to research and plan for his new chair.

Which leads me to Caleb's new wheels.

TiLite Twist
Atomic Green! (this picture does not do the color justice-it is awesome!)

I thought I would share some of the things we did differently with this chair. I figure some of this information might help a parent out there trying to pick the right chair for their child. I wish I had more help in choosing Caleb's first chair. I would have loved a blog post like this that shows some of the different options. Granted both of Caleb's chairs have been TiLite's so I can't comment on Quickie or Ki or Colours. I can only say that after much research on all of those brands, we stuck with TiLite.

I'm going to compare Caleb's old chair with his new chair:

Wheelie Bars
The first chair had 2 small wheelie (or anti-tip) bars in the back. They worked really well and I didn't have too much of an issue with them until Caleb got older. Caleb would try to tip back in his chair to go over a bump but the wheelie bars wouldn't allow him to go back far enough. The new chair just has a single caster wheel on the back and it is much higher off the ground (it is adjustable). This allows Caleb a lot more freedom in tipping back in his chair...and more freedom for doing wheelies.

 Seat Belt
Caleb's first chair had clip style seat belt. He had to pinch the sides to get the belt to release. My biggest pet peeve with this seat belt was that it was floppy so it would constantly fall down between the seat and the wheel. I would have to squeeze my hand through to pull the seat belt back up. It would get caught in the wheel spokes too. It drove me crazy! Caleb's new seat belt is more like the seat belt in a car, it buckles the same way. The best thing about this new seat belt is that it is rigid on the sides so it never, ever falls in between the seat and the wheel. It is wonderful and I love it. And you can push it up and out of the way if you want to.

 Seat back
There are several seat backs and seat cushions available for wheelchairs. We didn't really know what we were doing with Caleb's first chair so we went with what the vendor suggested. We didn't really have too many issues with the first seat back and seat cushion. For Caleb's new chair we wanted a very low back rest. Caleb has pretty good trunk control so he doesn't need a whole lot of support. With a lower seat back, he has more freedom to reach behind him because there isn't a big seat blocking his way. The seat back we chose for this new chair was a Jay Zip, we got the 6 inch which is the lowest back available. It is perfect. We love it. In the center there is a spot for a handle bar. The Twist actually comes with 2 handle bars but we prefer just one in the center. We really don't use the handle bar often because Caleb doesn't like to be pushed (he is 7 years old after all) and I've learned that a handle bar makes other kids want to push Caleb which has led to him getting hurt.

Brakes
The brakes on Caleb's first chair were push to lock with a really long handle. One thing we noticed with these brakes was Caleb would hit his hands on them when he was pushing his chair, especially when he was going fast. So for this new chair we went with a pull to lock handle. It is much more compact and less "in the way".

Wheels
We made big changes with the wheels this second time around. We went with colored spokes to match Caleb chair and we went with the "natural fit" hand rim. With the natural fit hand rim, there is no space in between the hand rim and the wheel. We liked the look of it (makes the chair look sportier) but we also heard that the natural fit hand rims are easier on the thumbs and wrists. More ergonomic I guess. His new wheels also have a little bit of a tilt to them (also called camber). We have always gone with the solid tires instead of the pneumatic which are similar to bicycle tires in that there is a tube in the center that can pop or need to be aired up. We didn't feel like messing with that but I have heard that the pneumatic tires offer a smoother ride because they give a little. I've noticed that older kids and adults seem to prefer the pneumatic over the solid. For now though we stuck with solid. 

Foot plate/Caster wheels
Not too many differences here. The TiLite Twist has a different approach to positioning the foot plate. On Caleb's new chair, the foot plate is back a little further which is supposed to keep the center of gravity in balance. Of course the must have for all pediatric wheelchairs are the light up caster wheels. There was no question that we would do those again. Caleb gets compliments on those "cool light-up wheels" all the time.

We put carbon fiber side guards on Caleb's new chair. They help keep his pants from rubbing on the wheels and I think they give the chair a sportier look. The pull off easily too.

I think that just about sums it up. Hopefully this post will help someone that is beginning the process of wheelchair shopping. 

And for you local folks, I highly recommend Innovative Seating and Mobility as a vendor. It is a smaller, newer company and they are fantastic. I contacted Mick (the owner) for the first time on April 26 and we had Caleb's chair on July 31. From start to finish, we had Caleb's chair in about 3 months. Anyone of you that have been through this process know that it can take forever. Caleb's first chair took almost 7 months to receive and that's not even counting the couple of months it took to meet with the vendor and get the chair ordered. Mick and his company were amazing and so patient with me. I had very specific things I wanted for Caleb's chair and they made sure everything was perfect. When we got the chair in late July we quickly realized that the back rest we had originally ordered wasn't a good fit for Caleb. Mick worked quickly to get a new back rest ordered and delivered in about 10 days. That is record speed folks. A big thank you to Mick and his crew. We couldn't be happier.


5 comments:

Tristan said...

Cassie,

This is a ton of help! Mason's not ready for wheels yet (he's 8 mos) but I was already wondering how in the world to learn more about options. You just gave me lots of things to consider - yay.

Anonymous said...

What about cushions? Any big difference from old to new? Any considerations or ideas for the best cushion? Our daughter no movement or feeling from lower chest down?

J said...

Hey Cassie,

Awesome post! I've been considering getting the single anti-tip wheel to allow more freedom. Does Caleb like it? Does it cause him to be more tippy? Has he actually tipped his chair? Do you feel it is equally as safe as 2 anti-tippers?

Cassie said...

Anonymous, there are several cushions to choose from. Caleb's first cushion was a firmer material and I was never very crazy about it. It didn't really conform to his body well. His new cushion is a Jay Zip cushion. I really like it so far, it kinda hugs his body better and offers more support. There area also air cushions that you just fill with air until you like the way the cushion feels and there is also a honeycomb cushion. We just wanted something that would be easy to clean and would be comfortable. So far we are happy with the Jay Zip. J we do like the single anti-tip wheel on the new chair. That was one of the things I liked most about the Twist. Caleb is not more tippy in it but it does allow him to lean back further. The wheel is adjustable so it can me lowed closer to the ground. It is a very solid wheel so I definitely think it is safe. I've pulled him all the way back and the anti-tip wheel kept him from falling back. Hope that helps!

Big brother, Little sister. said...

I love this chair! Looks so sporty and cool! My son has a green powerchair and he loves calebs fluro green!

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