There are a wide range of bags that attach to the back and sides of a wheelchair or beneath it. As with any pieces of luggage, the materials, quality and capacities vary. The guiding principle for a wheelchair user is to choose a bag that meet their needs and their budgets.
Carriers enable a wheelchair to be stowed securely on almost any vehicle.
- The pick-up carrier lifts the wheelchair and stores it on the back of a flatbed truck. This carrier is suitable only for folding chairs.
- A car-top carrier automatically places a manual wheelchair on the roof of a car.
- The bumper-mounted carrier is also for manual wheelchairs and is easily removable.
- The hitch-mounted carrier tilts down for ease of use, and once the
wheelchair is loaded, slots back into place.
There are many types of cushion available that provide both comfort and necessary support.
- Air cushions. These have inflatable chambers that give the cushions the versatility to provide individual comfort. The chambers are prone to punctures, however.
- Cooling pads. The primary purpose of these pads is to help prevent moisture gathering beneath a wheelchair user’s buttocks, hips and thighs.
- Foam cushions. These are inexpensive and lightweight, and can be molded to suit the user’s needs. Their disadvantage is the cushions’ relatively short life (six to twelve months).
- Gel cushions. These last much longer than foam cushions but are heavier. They remain comfortable as long as they retain their original shape.
- Hybrid cushions. These are made from a mixture of materials.
The choice of cushions is such that most people seek medical advice, and test different types, before making any decision.
Cushions are an accessory and typically sold separately, although the wheelchair
makers will also sell you cushions. Most users have multiple cushions. This
allows rotation so they can be washed and allows the user to pick different
cushions depending on intended activities and/or a change of pace. The main
function of the cushion is to provide comfort. People in wheelchairs have
been known to develop pressure sores, which can be serious health problems
as well as being painful. Different people need different types of cushions
depending on their weight, activity level, and postural stability. There
is a wide range of cushions designed for wheelchairs, and users are of course
free to use other types of cushions or to create their own cushioning. The
most popular cushions are foam – many types of foam can be used including
polyurethane – and gel. There are also air cushions and even sophisticated
pneumatic systems that allow users to vary the pressure in the cushions
and make some parts firmer than others.
Almost one in five wheelchair users suffer from torn, blistered and callused hands because of the frequent use of the push rims on their chairs. Some also experience regular pain in their fingers and thumbs that medical research believes may be related to carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition thought to be caused by continual repetitive hand movements.
Gloves that are correctly designed, and that are approved by medical advisers, can provide not only warmth and dryness in bad weather, but also
- safeguard against damage to hands brought on by use of wheelchair push rims, and
- enable users’ to have a better grip of the rims and hence greater control.
Lap trays allow wheelchair users to eat, read and work as though they are sitting at a table. The trays come in many different materials, including clear acrylic. Trays with rims, and with straps to hold them in place on the arms of the chair, are among the most popular.
Wheelchair lifts can help solve the problem of steps and sloping ground at home, in the garden, in shops and in workplaces. Most lifts are not enclosed and are easily operated; some even fold to one side when not in use.
Electric lifts are also available for vehicles, allowing a wheelchair and its occupant to enter the rear of a van or adapted car. These lifts either tuck into the back of the vehicle or are secured to the outside of the door.
Like many other wheelchair accessories, there is a broad choice of ramps. Some are also custom-built for specific areas and purposes.
Portable ramps enable a wheelchair to overcome an obstacle where there is no lift or alternative access.
- Roll-up ramps are ideal for curbs and short flights of steps.
- Threshold ramps allow wheelchairs to enter and exit buildings comfortably.
- Multi-fold ramps and telescopic ramps are useful for vans.
Interior ramps are placed in many shops, homes and offices. They usually have a non-slip coating, but the available room sometimes means that the ramps are steep and hard to negotiate.
Permanent exterior ramps
Permanent exterior ramps are made from standard building materials such as concrete, brick and steel. The generally accepted advice is for them to have a slope no steeper than one in twelve. In other words, for every twelve inches of ramp, the rise is one inch. Anyone thinking of installing a permanent ramp should also confirm that it will not violate a building code.
Temporary exterior ramp
A temporary exterior ramp may help avoid building code issues. If suitable, it can also be carried with the wheelchair and used elsewhere.
The foregoing are the most common wheelchair accessories. Others include:
- elbow protectors;
- rain hoods;
- restraints to prevent a chair moving in a vehicle; and
- seat belts that allow someone to stay in a wheelchair while in a car or van.
See page on renting wheelchairs.
It is probably best to shop locally for used wheelchairs if possible so that you can try them out first. If you buy a used wheelchair over the internet, make note of the seller's return policy before you make your final decision. Some charities that help people obtain wheelchairs or parts for them include the Free Wheelchair Mission, Direct Relief International, MedShare International, and CrossLink International.
Note that we have no connection to these retailers and do not get any money from them.