……….What wheelchairs have you used during your life, and how have you found them?A discussion with other wheelchair using friends
Having had an interesting conversation with other friends with progressing conditions, I thought it might be interesting for me to type up my thoughts as an Adaptive Product Review, for other wheelchair users to benefit from.
Reviewing these chairs, I’m going to progress through in the order of the progression of my disability. This is going to be a brief overview of each of the chairs rather than an indepth exploration of my wheelchair setup – though I plan to write a full review of at least some of the chairs in time – there’ll be a review of the Salsa M2, my current chair, very soon. In many ways the two manual or three electric wheelchairs could all be used with specific modifications to suit the needs of the same person, but each was obviously built for my needs at the time. Here I’ll focus on the chair itself rather than the features thereof – I’ll save those for the detailed reviews.
My first chair was the Kuschall K3, though I didn’t last long with it. It was a lightweight manual but without the resilience of the Quickie Helium and got its front frame bent several times in the short period I owned it. I quickly learned that it was not the right chair for me, because at the time I was very active and tough on my wheelchairs.
After I gave up getting the K3 repaired and replaced, I got a Quickie Helium which I loved and still have. It was a lot stronger than the K3, and it came with me when I moved to Spain. Out there, it was exposed to a lot of cobbles, dodgy kerbs, and drunken errors in driving, and I was really impressed by how well it stuck it out.
Because the Helium is so light, I was able to use it far past when I would have had to give up using a heavy manual. It was also consistently possible to make changes to the set-up of the chair as my needs changed – cushions, footplate, castors, wheelrims could all be altered, and even when I could no longer use it outdoors, I could use it indoors for quite some time.
Frustratingly I was given the sling back rather than a Jay backrest, and I think that was one of the reasons it became increasingly hard for me to use. I intend to buy a Jay backrest for it, probably quite a high-backed one, and then mount proper chest straps and seatbelts onto the chair, along with armrests. I’m hoping that a headrest can also be added, in order to make the chair something that can be used when I travel, to get around hotel rooms or to visit people’s houses where there’s a small step in.
If anyone has any tips on how this chair could be effectively modified to support me more sturdily so I could be pushed around indoors in it, please let me know!
Invacare Spectra XTR2
When I could no longer even navigate my flat easily in a manual, wheelchair services and I decided it was time for an electric wheelchair, and the first one they chose me was the Invacare Spectra XTR2. I didn’t understand much about electric wheelchairs, but I was desperate – I had found myself on the brink of leaving uni becase I didn’t have the seating and positioning options I needed.
Even with this chair I still didn’t have them. I benefited enormously from the tilt function for repositioning, and the lateral supports for holding me in place, but overall I didn’t find it worked well for me. I think the problems I had were two-fold. Firstly, the chair wasn’t set up correctly to meet my needs, and secondly it was a rear wheel drive chair. This meant that the turn would always come from the back of the chair, and push the front of the chair round. I really struggled with this indoors especially, and the chair didn’t work well for me as a result.
Since that chair I’ve always decided to get a mid-wheel drive chair. I struggled so much with the steering on the XTR2 because the front of the chair was invariably smashing into one place and the back of the chair into another. The steering sensitivity was all wrong for me, and I needed something that was far more indoor-outdoor, whereas the XTR2 didn’t work indoors for me.
Quickie Salsa Jive M Hybrid
After I had a serious illness and pressure sore, with an acute exacerbation of my condition I spent a month in hospital and a number of months recuperating, and needed a chair that had more functionality than the XTR2 I owned had to offer me, and that was the point at which the Salsa Jive M Hybrid entered my world. Of the chairs I’ve owned, it is the best by a very long way, and I’m struggling with it no longer being my primary chair.
The Salsa Jive M Hybrid was my first 8mph chair, and that made such a difference to my life. I was able to dash for a crossing or a bus, though I generally stayed driving more slowly unless I had a good reason for speeding. The chair had a great sense of control even at high speeds, and I really benefited from that, especially if I was driving on my own and trying to weave my way through crowds. It was also my first midwheel drive chair, and the change was an enormous improvement. I lost the unwieldy feeling I’d had with the rear wheel drive chair, and had better control and managed to move around indoors without gouging chunks out of every wall I passed. Despite being a mid-wheel drive, it was very good outdoors as well as indoors. I have used it off road quite a bit, and even on countryside without paths, and it has always managed to do whatever I ask it to do.
As well as the tilt-in-space I was used to, it offered powered leg raisers and powered recline, with far more supportive seating, though the flip away laterals were never supportive enough to hold my trunk in a stable way. The powered leg raisers were very fragile and broke repeatedly, which was a real problem for me. The tilt-in-space was also frustrating because it applies a speed limiter if the chair is tilted too far, which would mean I was absolutely fine, then would drive up a slope or kerb, and suddenly apply the speed limiters. The hardware from the headrest left a long piece of metal sticking out behind me, at the perfect height for someone to walk into if the chair suddenly slowed or stopped unexpectedly. I eventually put foam tape on it to protect people’s heads – but compared to the benefits of the chair, the drawbacks were minimal.
Quickie Salsa M2
Unfortunately my condition progressed and the Salsa Jive M Hybrid no longer met my positioning needs, and had to be upgraded. There were quite expensive repairs that needed doing, and because I’d moved house and funding stream I ended up with wheelchair services just deciding to replace it all together, with a lesser chair – the Salsa M2. I kept the powered tilt/recline/leg raisers, but was very disappointed when my new chair was a 4mph chair instead of an 8mph chair, and was even more disappointed when I tried the controls and stopping distance.
Unlike my previous chair, the Salsa M2 had an RNET controller, which adds in a bit of delay when you’re using the joystick, along with less powerful brakes than the Salsa Jive M. I was surprised by how much worse a chair it was, but on the other hand it had a lot of the positioning support I needed mounting to it, including some very specialised armrests, so I’ve had to accept having a less good chair than my previous one. The stopping distance scares me because I worry about hitting someone as a result of it, but I can’t do anything beyond being careful.
The advantage of this chair is that now whenever my needs change a bit the chair can be upgraded to fit what I need. With my arms being increasingly hard to manage, I have wide channelled Otto Bock armrests to support my arms at the elbow, which maximises my ability to use them. I have a specific shape of joystick to make it easier to drive, and a deep seat and backrest. I still struggle with the backrest as it is, and would really benefit from some better lateral supports, but it’s a lot more contoured and supportive than my previous chair.
I hope you found that whistlestop tour through my history of wheelchairs useful. I am hoping to do more detailed reviews of at least some of them in the New Year.
How have you found these wheelchairs to use and control – and do you think my brief review covers everything it needed to?
If you have any questions about these, or any other product, (or have recommendations of your own) just comment, email me at email@example.com, or tweet @jamierhale
To see the other reviews in this series, go to Adaptive Product Reviews
If you make or sell a product you want me to review, drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org