Purchasing a New Wheelchair for a Child

Children grow so fast that quite a few wheelchair purchases are inevitable while they are young. It is important to make sure you are getting the best possible chair to meet your child’s needs since it will be their ticket to independence until it is time to upgrade. We have learned a good bit, both positive and negative, from our three chair purchases thus far. I would love to share some of the valuable lessons we have gleaned through our experiences in hopes it may help guide parents as they make these huge purchases that can make a world of difference to their kids.

We got Maddie fitted for her first set of wheels at age two and a half. We waited a while before we finally decided it was time for her first chair, and by the time we ordered, we wished we had done it sooner since it took a few months after fitting to get the chair in and ready for her. We also learned early, that for most kids’ chairs, the insurance will only cover one chair every three years unless the child has significant growth changes that would warrant medical necessity. We have only been able to order chair number three by the time Maddie was six due to changing up our insurance so the new insurance would cover a new chair. We were shocked to learn that trying to get a different chair type covered, such as a beach chair or stroller type, would count as our only wheelchair purchase available for our three-year period. All of this to say, the first tip we learned the hard way was timing, timing, timing. Be smart about your chair purchase and as soon as your insurance allows for a new one, go ahead and get it in the works to maximize your purchasing benefit.

The second chair we bought was a huge flop. To put it nicely, we let our vendor talk us into a chair that proved to be a horrible fit for Maddie. We were told it would not be much bigger or heavier than her previous chair and it ended up being so heavy I could barely lift it. It was also so big for Maddie that she could not push it as well - due to the height of the seat and position of the wheels. It was a folding frame with many “accessories” that we learned later came at too great a cost. Each accessory we added, also added weight, making it harder for Maddie to maneuver, and almost impossible for me to lift with my bad back. We learned through this purchase to research options, ask specific dimensions and weight comparisons, and be very thorough in asking questions. Also, we learned too late, that had we spoken up about how bad the fit was, the vendor may have been able to do something about it after the purchase.

We just recently went to the seating clinic at our local children’s hospital and had Maddie fitted for what will be her third set of wheels. We had an appointment with our vendor, as well as a physical therapist at the hospital. It is the therapist’s job it is to evaluate the best seating option for your child based off their size, physical challenges, and lifestyle. She took one look at Maddie popping her wheelies and spinning like she loves and knew that Maddie needed a lightweight chair that would maximize her freedom and let her be the most mobile she could be. The appointment lasted a good two and a half hours (I think our vendor checked his watch three different times) but we made sure to go over every detail of the chair and its options from the wheels, to the frame, to the cushion. Maddie was super excited to pick out a fun color and, of course, requested her staple light up front casters that she loves to show off to anyone who will look. We made sure our vendor heard the things we have loved and hated about our previous chairs. We laid out the details of our “dream chair” and asked what features could be made a reality; after all, we have learned that sometimes things you thought couldn’t be a reality actually could! In the end, we were tired and exhausted from hours of wheelchair talk, but we know in 60-90 days when Maddie’s chair comes in, that the talk will all pay off in what we hope to be a great fitting chair for her to spend her next at least three years in.

To recap, our biggest tips would be:
  • Be intentional about timing and know it is a process - so start as soon as possible.
  • Be picky! This is not just a chair, it is an extension of your child and their ticket to mobility.
  • Ask questions and more questions. Don’t assume the vendor will know what is best for your child. You are the expert on them and their needs!
  • Think long and hard about which accessories will help and which will just add unnecessary bulk to the chair.
  • Ask for the ones you deem important at the time of the chair purchase so the insurance may cover them.
  • Be vocal quickly if the chair doesn’t work well upon delivery. If you speak up soon about a bad fit, the vendor may be able to do something to help.
  • Involve your kids in the fun parts that they can help with such as colors, embellishments, and cushion covers.
  • Find out if the chair you are getting has any upgrade programs such as frame upgrades with growth that could save you money in the long run.
  • Talk to your child’s physical therapist, if they have one, for advice before the purchase.
  • Ask other friends in wheelchairs what they like or don’t like in their chairs to educate yourself before making such an important purchase.

Amanda

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