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Guest Post: How Are Power Chairs Different From Manual Ones?


Today’s guest post was written by Karly and she talks about how her powerchair is different from my manual one.

Karly’s powerchair is lifechanging just like my manual one is! It allows Karly to be able to leave her house and without it, she would be completely homebound.

If you’ve been reading Sarah’s blog for a while, you know that she uses a manual wheelchair. I also use a wheelchair, but mine is very different. I have a type of congenital muscular dystrophy, meaning I’ve been disabled from birth. My disease affects my muscles so I’ve never been strong enough to push myself in a manual wheelchair. I got my first power chair around 10 years old and get a new one every 5-7 years or so. Using a power wheelchair gives me the freedom to move around on my own rather than needing someone to push me any time I need to move even a few inches over.

A lot of people assume that all wheelchairs and wheelchair users are the same, so I thought I’d share what my experiences using a power wheelchair have been like and how it differs from Sarah’s manual chair!

My wheelchair is over 350 pounds

Manual chairs tend to be small and lightweight, but mine is huge and weighs several hundred pounds. This matters for several reasons, the first of which being that it makes it difficult to physically move. Sometimes my chair will have a bad wire or some kind of problem causes me to not be able to drive my chair. Because it’s so heavy, it’s difficult to push it manually. It’s also basically impossible to lift up steps or curbs, so if there isn’t a ramp I’m screwed.

It also means that it can’t go in a car that doesn’t have a wheelchair lift or ramp and seats removed. Manual chairs usually can fold up and be put in a trunk or backseat, but that’s not happening with mine. I’m also unable to fly on a plane for the same reasons. So finding transportation is nearly impossible for me and I rely on my mom to drive me everywhere in our family van.

Power chairs typically have a lot of extra functions that many manual chairs don’t have

My wheelchair can tilt backward, elevate the leg rests, and lay the back down flat. I can adjust the speed at which it drives. Some power chairs also have elevating seats to raise you higher and seats that can convert to a standing position, though mine doesn’t because insurance rarely covers these features.

These extra features allow me to be more comfortable in my chair and adjust the position my body is in. That’s important because I’m in my chair all day every day and prone to things like pressure sores and poor circulation.

But these extra features also drive the price up significantly 

My most recent power chair is just under a year old and cost over $30,000. That’s more than some people spend on a car! Luckily I have Medicaid which covers the cost of a new wheelchair, but there are many disabled people who don’t have insurance that will cover a power chair or don’t have insurance at all. The cost of these chairs is way too expensive for the average person to be able to afford on their own.

That also means that repairs are extremely expensive as well, which is unfortunate since, in my experience, they’re never as sturdy or reliable as you’d expect from a $30,000 piece of equipment.

In less than a year, I had to have my chair reprogrammed after it glitched and threw me off a curb, my batteries replaced, my leg rests broke and was getting stuck in the elevated position, and my headrest broke. They also can’t get wet because for whatever reason they still haven’t designed power chairs to be water-resistant and safe in the rain. Gravel, dust, sand, sticks, etc can blow up under your chair and ruin the motor. Sometimes I wish I could use a manual wheelchair just so I didn’t have to deal with the stress of constantly needing repairs.

My power chair needs to be charged daily

Since it’s a power chair, I can’t drive it indefinitely. It has to be plugged in every night while I sleep. Luckily, my batteries last quite a long time. I don’t have an exact idea of how long they can last, but unless my batteries are going bad (which they do sometimes) I’ve never had them die on me during the day. I can go to Disney World for a full day and most times it doesn’t even dip past 100%. That’s one of the big perks of a power chair – I can basically drive around as much as I want all day and never have to worry about tiring myself out.

My life changed when I was able to switch from a manual chair to a power wheelchair. 

Not all wheelchairs are the same, but they all serve a purpose. Mine is completely different from Sarah’s just as our disabilities are completely different. My power chair gave me my freedom like Sarah’s manual chair gives her. The day I brought my first one home, I drove as fast as I could back and forth our apartment absolutely thrilled that I was going so fast all by myself. It’s a huge factor in my quality of life and I’m thankful that I have insurance that will provide me with a power wheelchair.

Thank you, Karly, for writing this post I learned so much from it and it! If you have any questions feel free to comment on this post and I will do my best to answer.

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