When mobility issues advance, an electric wheelchair can be a great investment for your independence. However, note that driving an electric wheelchair is very different than using a manual wheelchair. It might require some practice before you get to master it.
The first and most important step is to take a look at the instructions presented in the user manual. Each electric wheelchair model is different and has its own usage specifications. Make sure you read through the manual and understand the basics before going on the road.
Check the battery and tires. Your new electric wheelchair might need a full charge before hitting the road, as well as some air pumped into the wheels. Thorough preparation sets you for a nice ride, keeps you balanced and ensures proper maneuverability.
Make the necessary adjustments to the seat, armrests, footrests (if the case), and joystick, just like you would do when getting into your brand-new car. This will ensure that the electric wheelchair is adapted to your body and that you can drive comfortably.
2. Sitting on & standing up from an electric wheelchair
Ensure a safe transfer in all circumstances. The power drive should be turned OFF and the wheels should be locked, when preparing to sit in your electric wheelchair. Footrests must be rotated up/out to allow access. Make sure you stand with your back to the wheelchair, lean forward slightly with your pelvis back, until you have a good grip on the handles, and slowly lower yourself into the seat. Adjust your position if needed and do not rush the process. Once you are safely and comfortably seated, you can turn the power ON and unlock the wheels.
The same procedure, in reverse order, applies when getting out of the electric wheelchair. Before you stand up, make sure to lock the wheels, turn the power OFF, push the footrests up or to the side, get a good grip of your handles, push into your legs or get assistance if needed and don’t rush. Slow, steady movements are always safer.
3. Driving the electric wheelchair
Use of joystick
This is perhaps the most difficult thing to learn in order to properly drive an electric wheelchair. Take the time to practice in a safe area, on a level surface, until you are used to the balance and maneuverability of the wheelchair. Some electric wheelchairs have more sensitive controllers than others, so it is important to practice until you have mastered it.
Do not get discouraged if your movements are not smooth from the start. Learning to drive an electric wheelchair is comparable to learning to drive a car. It may not be as difficult, but it definitely requires time, attention and repeated attempts in order to stimulate muscle memory and develop an automatism.
Some electric wheelchairs have a smaller turning radius than others. Usually this is stated in the manual, but the best is to experience it yourself, so practice the turning circle to see how much space you need when turning. The new Rollz Motion Electric has the same turning radius as a regular Rollz Motion, which means you cand turn it around on the spot.
Ramps, curbs, obstacles
When driving on ramps or taking obstacles such as curbs, you must first observe the limits stated in the manual. These can be different for each electric wheelchair. We strongly recommend not to exceed the limits stated in the manual in order to minimize injuries, falls and loss of balance and stability.
- Driving uphill: The electrically powered motor needs some extra power when going uphill, so don’t be afraid to push the joystick forward. But beware: as soon as you reach the top of the hill, you must slow down or you may be launched forward.
- Driving downhill: The reverse applies when going back down. To avoid going downhill too quickly, do not push the joystick forward, if at all, to gradually descend the hill until you arrive safely.
If you plan on using the electric wheelchair on a sidewalk, it’s important to only use the designated curb ramp entrances and exits. Attempting to drive over a high curb could result in a dangerous fall.
Entering elevators with an electric wheelchair is very similar to parking a car. Backward is best, to allow more freedom of movement when exiting the lift and to anticipate any obstacles. It can be a bit challenging at first – don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it, and if you’re alone, just take your time.
Most electric wheelchairs are equipped with a storage bag under the seat, and/or possibly some accessories to attach to the handles, on which you can hang handbags.
However, we recommend that you be careful about the maximum weight capacity of your wheelchair, as this can interfere with balance, maneuverability, speed and battery usage. The heavier the load, the more power the wheelchair needs. For safety reasons, keep the load only for the intended storage bag and avoid overloading.
4. Weather conditions
Most people need an electric wheelchair to move more easily outdoors. In this case, climate and weather conditions are important aspects to consider when making your purchase.
- Rainy conditions: The electrical parts are incompatible with moisture and water and must therefore be well protected. If you are outside when it starts to rain, you should especially protect the joystick, as it is the first electronic component that can come into contact with water and cause the product to malfunction. A rain cape or rain poncho can provide adequate protection if driving in rain is unavoidable.
- Sunny conditions: Make sure that the electric wheelchair is not parked in the sun. This can damage the battery and electrical components.
A decisive factor for the lifespan of your wheelchair is maintenance. The better you take care of your electric wheelchair, the longer you can enjoy it. The task is not too difficult: there are only a few aspects to consider.
Storage conditions are important for electric wheelchairs, as they need to be kept away from water, freezing temperatures or chemicals. Unless you want to unplug the battery every time you get home, it’s best to store your chair somewhere in the house.
The battery is not the only part of the chair that can get damaged by water and low temperatures, but it is the most sensitive. The fabric of the seat, straps, armrests, footrests and the frame in general can become damaged over time if stored in poor conditions. Different materials have different degrees of resistance, but it is better – if possible – to store your wheelchair in a clean, dry and safe place.
Most electric wheelchairs require the battery to be fully charged before first use. Check whether this also applies to your model. The life of the battery is extended if it is recharged in time and does not run empty to the cut-off limit.
It is best to fully (or almost fully) charge the battery before driving your wheelchair, especially when preparing for long journeys. Whenever you are not charging it, it’s best to keep it turned off, to avoid energy loss.
A regular check-up is recommended. Don’t wait until you encounter a problem before taking it in for a technical check. It is an electric wheelchair, so your safety and comfort depend on its proper functioning.