This blog was originally written for CAPTIVATING Magazine and appeared in the most recent edition. Used here with permission.
Wheels and a chair
Why do we put wheels on chairs? It makes them unstable and likely to roll.
Over a quarter century of living on wheels, I’ve learned a bit, though I am not a seating expert. (That is a disclaimer, if you didn’t recognize it carefully camouflaged there.)
Living near Orlando, Florida I see lots of different mobility aids. Some are awesome, but some are not. I recently saw a family struggling when their wheelchair was not up to their needs.
The young mother was rather obviously a full-time wheelchair user. Her chair was a garden variety, hospital type mobility aid. The father was pushing and trying to hold the hand of a child whilst the mom had a smaller child on her lap. They were struggling. What a difference a more appropriate chair would have made to them! How do we know what we need? That is where this mini-series comes in. With some basics we can be prepared to ask questions and advocate for ourselves.
In Part 1 of our wheelchair primer let’s talk a bit about the most defining part of a wheelchair, the wheels. In Part 2, coming soon, we’ll examine the chair. Remember that a modern wheelchair is essentially a bicycle. If we are going to ride it occasionally, or rent it on vacation, a beach cruiser might be what we need. If we are going to ride it all day, every day, and commute with it, we need something else entirely. The most defining part of the wheelchair is the wheel, or wheels since there are four of them.
Plastic spokes on plastic wheels. You get the idea.
The wheels pictured here came with my handcycle “bike.” I have since replaced them with something lighter, which makes the “bike” easier to propel. These are the basic wheelchair wheels. They are rather heavy and harder to roll. You will find these on most “off the shelf” wheelchairs. This type of wheel was on the chair I used on our example.
Carbon fiber, composite, and some titanium.
At the opposite end of the wheel spectrum are ultra-light wheels. They are paired with ultra-light, custom chairs. These are easy for the person who rides in the chair or a family member to handle and require far less energy to roll. In fact, an ounce off the wheel weight is effectively a pound less to push, so a difference of 32 ounces, for example, makes a huge difference to the person who is supplying the energy.
In the middle, and the most common wheels you will find on a chair made and set up for the individual rider are the shiny, aluminum wheels and steel spokes that are shown in the top picture. These are seldom found on off the shelf wheelchairs and are practical for everyday living.
Put on some tires and get moving
The bright blue tires in the top picture are rubber and feel like I’m pushing through packed sand. Blowing a pneumatic (air) tire in Target was rather shocking, not to mention a problem, and having my tired go down between Taiwan and London prompted me to put these on the chair I use for travel. Besides, the bright blue is fun.
Many families will need the use of a wheelchair at some point. What works in the hospital is not ideal for theme parks. Perhaps this primer will give you some kind of idea of what to get to suit your needs and help you recognize what you are seeing. A seating specialist can advise you on what works and be an advocate for you if there are third parties in the mix. Please let me know if you have questions.
Note from George… I have been somewhat absent, and for that I apologize. I’m doing some occupational therapy, which is taking considerable time and yielding good results. I think it’s time to write again! Thank you for your patience.
Picture descriptions: Top picture shows a shiny aluminum wheel and spokes with bright blue tires. Second picture is of 2 black plastic wheels and spokes with black tires. Third picture shows 2 obviously lighter wheels of black, carbon fiber with red spokes and titanium handrims. Fourth picture is a small version of the main picture.