After a few conversations on Twitter, it became apparent that the having spent almost two years researching powered mobility options, it would be silly of me to keep the information I’ve gathered to myself. I’ve tried to be as objective as I can be, giving the pros and cons of each. I’ve then spoken about my own experiences of trying them. Please be aware that even to people with the same condition(s) will have different needs. So what works for one, might not work for another, and vice versa. Please test products yourself before buying.
I have hEDS and PoTS and am currently unable to stand up safely. I need something that supports my back and hips, can fit in the boot of a standard car and will allow me to access small spaces, like my GP surgery.
So, for those of you who are considering powered mobility options, I hope this post is helpful! We’ll start with the more obvious products, and move onto the things that you might not have heard of or considered. So keep scrolling if you’ve already looked into the first few options and they aren’t for you.
It’s worth giving my Choosing A Wheelchair To Suit Your Needs post if you’re new to mobility products or feel you’d benefit from some guidance in what to consider when choosing the right mobility product for you.
Powered Mobility Options: A Mobility Scooter, £500-£5,000
Mobility scooters some in a variety of sizes and budgets. So (as with all these options) it’s worth considering what you need your mobility scooter to be able to do to allow you to get about more independently.
The three mobility scooter categories are: Car boot/transportable mobility scooters, mid-size mobility scooters and class 3 mobility scooters. Generally, the smaller the scooter, the lower the price bracket you’ll be looking at.
What Are The Pros Of A Mobility Scooter?
- Lots of fairly inexpensive options available
- There are options that will fit into the boot of a car
What Are The Cons Of A Mobility Scooter?
- No option for customisable seating
- Very little back and hip support from seating
- Larger turning circle than other powered mobility options
- May not be permitted on public transport depending on size of mobility scooter and area
Who Is A Mobility Scooter Most Suited To?
In my opinion, a mobility scooter is best suited for people who are able to walk a little. Unfortunately, there are lots of places that are still not accessible for mobility scooter users because there isn’t enough room. So many people will use their mobility scooters to get to the shops and leave their scooter outside, while they do their shopping.
Alternatively, those who have a self-propelled wheelchair, but would also like an inexpensive powered option might find a mobility scooter suitable, it they don’t need much seating support and can use their wheelchair to access places that are too small for a mobility scooter.
It’s worth noting that the more supportive seats only seem to come on the larger (and more expensive) mobility scooter seats. So if you need more support in your seat, you’ll loose the ability to transport the scooter in a car and won’t be able to access all of the places that a smaller mobility scooter would be able to manage.
If you want to use public transport with a mobility scooter, you’ll need to check with local providers what they are able to accommodate. For example, London busses will allow transportable mobility scooters on their busses, but the policy for the services in Southend-on-Sea is that they won’t. Some bus drivers will make an exception, but it can be hit or miss. It’s better to find out this information before you buy, rather than ending up not being able to access the places you need to.
A Mobility Scooter For My Needs?
I need a powered option that goes into the boot of a standard car. However, I also need good back and hip support from my mobility devices because of my bendy joints. I found a transportable mobility scooter caused a significant amount of pain after using for more than half an hour or so and I wasn’t able to use it in all the places I needed to – my GP surgery for a start! As I wasn’t able to walk far enough to leave it outside the surgery, and can’t stand up safely at all now, it became clear that a mobility scooter wasn’t the best option for me. You can read more about my experience with a transportable mobility scooter in my Pride Go-Go Mobility Scooter review.
Powered Mobility Options: A Powerchair, £800 and upwards depending on your needs.
Powerchairs, like mobility scooters, come in many different sizes and budgets. They also have the advantage of being highly customisable at the higher price points. There are also different drive options available.
The drive options are: front wheel drive, mid wheel drive and rear wheel drive. The type of terrain and space you have available in the places you’ll be using your powerchair will likely dictate the best drive type for you.
A basic powerchair. Image from motability.co.uk.
What Are The Pros Of A Powerchair?
- Highly customisable
- Option of tilt and recline
- Many seating options available
What Are The Cons Of A Powerchair?
- Additional features, such as tilt and recline can be expensive
- If you want to travel in a car (as a driver or passenger), you’ll need a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) or a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV)
- As with a mobility scooter, if you want to use your powerchair on public transport you’ll need to check their weight and dimension restrictions.
Image from motability.co.uk
Who Is A Powerchair Most Suited To?
A powerchair may be the only option for someone with particularly complex needs or who requires certain features, like tilt and recline. They can be a great option for people with reduced arm strength, fatigue and other difficulties that would make pushing a manual wheelchair difficult or impossible. As they won’t fit into a standard car, powerchairs are best suited to someone who has or can get a WAV or MPV. Alternatively they would also be a good option for someone who doesn’t need the use of a car at all, because everything they need and want to be able to get to is within their local area.
Please be aware that for £800, you’re only going to get a very, very basic powerchair. The seat backs of these are particularly low, providing little to no support and they won’t have the largest battery range. For a powerchair that offers good seating support a longer battery range and additional features you’re looking at significantly more money.
Image from mobility.co.uk
A Powerchair For My Needs?
A powerchair meets my clinical needs. In some ways more than an active user wheelchair, as I’d find a tilt and recline feature helpful with my PoTS. However, a powerchair doesn’t meet my social needs at all and would actively hinder me in this respect.
I don’t have or have access to a WAV or MPV. In terms of my local area, I live in a small market town. So while a powerchair would allow me to get to the local shops and my GP surgery, there’s very little else I’d be able to do without having a WAV/MPV. Restaurants are out of the local area, as is the local cinema, bowling alley and many other things. And while I’d be able to get to Dan’s school functions by train and taxi, without a vehicle that would take a powerchair, I wouldn’t be able to get home. Shows and other school functions tend to finish at about 10pm, which is too late for me to be travelling on my own because of my photosensitivity and the impact this has on my migraine.
Even if I had access to a WAV/MPV, a powerchair would still limit me as I’m not medically able to drive as a result of my basilar type migraine. So I need my mobility aids to be able to fit into our family car, Dan’s parents’ car, my parents’ car and my sister’s car. If I were to have a powerchair and WAV/MPV, I’d still only be able to visit my family in Essex with Dan. I wouldn’t be able to stay by myself and be involved in normal family life because a powerchair wouldn’t fit into my parents’ or sister’s car. This is just one example of the limitations that a powerchair and suitable vehicle would put on me – it’s semantics anyway, as I don’t have access to a WAV/MPV!
Image from motability.co.uk
If I were able to drive, a powerchair and a WAV/MPV combination would have more benefits for me than it does as a non-driver.
Powered Mobility Options: A Folding/Lightweight Powerchair, £1,700-£2,700
Folding and lightweight powerchairs are a fairly new addition to the powered mobility market. The best way I can sum them up is as the powered equivalent of a standard folding wheelchair.
What Are The Pros Of A Folding Powerchair?
- Lighter than most powerchairs
- Can physically fit in the boot of a standard car
- Lower price point than some of the other powered mobility options
What Are The Cons Of A Folding Powerchair?
- Not customisable
- Offer less support than most powerchairs
- The frame of the chair isn’t solid like a powerchair or rigid active user wheelchair, so they don’t move as smoothly
- Still quite heavy at around 19kg, so can be difficult for some people to lift into the boot of a car
Who Is A Folding Powerchair Most Suited To?
A folding powerchair is most suitable for someone who doesn’t need a lot of seating support but wants something smaller than a mobility scooter. It can be a good option for someone who doesn’t have access to a WAV or MPV, as long as they’re able to lift the 19kg chair into the boot of the car, or has someone who can do this for them. Folding powerchairs are best suited for people who don’t need a large battery range – this has deliberately been kept small to reduce the weight of the chair.
A Folding Powerchair For My Needs?
I have difficulty with folding wheelchairs, both self-propelled and powered. My body feels all the movements from the chair, which causes significant pain. I didn’t get any hip support from the seat of a folding powerchair and the back support was minimal. I found I got more hip support from a mobility scooter seat.
While Dan was able to manage the weight of getting a folding powerchair into the boot of our car, he found the shape tricky. He felt a transportable mobility scooter was more ergonomical in this respect. It was such a hassle for Dan that when we used the car, we preferred to take the basic manual chair I had at the time and have Dan pushing me.
My Mum who, while she is in her 50s, has quite an active job as a reception teacher and does a lot of lifting and moving heavy things, found the folding powerchair impossible to lift into the boot of the car. She had to get my Uncle and Dad to do it for her.
If you want to know more about my experience of testing out a folding powerchair, check out my Pride I-Go Portable Powerchair Review.
Powered Mobility Options: Power Assist Wheels, £4,200-£5,300
Power assist wheels attach to a manual wheelchair (either a standard chair or an active user chair) and give the user a boost of power to help them use their chairs. There are various options available. Some have cruise control so that either no or very little self-propelling is required, others give you extra oomph to each of your pushes, meaning you need less strength to propel your chair.
Image from max-mobility.com
What Are The Pros Of Power Assist Wheels?
- Transportable in the boot of a standard car
- Two options available – cruise (like you would in a powerchair) or additional power to pushes
- Attaches to a self-propelled wheelchair (so you get the right seat support from your wheelchair)
- Transferrable between wheelchairs, for example if you need a new manual wheelchair you can still use the same power assist wheels
- Cheaper than a powerchair and WAV/MPV combination
What Are The Cons Of Power Assist Wheels?
- One of the more expensive of the individual powered mobility options
Image from bromakin.co.uk
Who Is A Power Assist Wheels Most Suited To?
Someone who needs the additional seating support of a specialist wheelchair. Someone who has difficulty pushing a manual wheelchair (standard or active user) and doesn’t have access to a WAV/MPV.
Power Assist Wheels For My Needs?
Power assist wheels are the ideal option for me. They can be added to my active user wheelchair, which has the correct back and hip support for me. They can be used in all of the cars that I would need to access as a non-driver and all the people who would need to put them into the car boot are able to.
Power assist wheels would offer me more independence than a powerchair and WAV/MPV combination and, while they’re expensive, actually cost less than a WAV/MPV does!
Image from bromakin.co.uk
You can find out more about the different power assist wheels currently available in the UK in my Power Assist Wheels: A Comparison post.
Powered Mobility Options: A Powered Handcycle, £2,000-£2,500
Probably the least common of the powered mobility options is a powered handcycle. This is a device that looks like the front of a bike and attaches to the front of a rigid active user wheelchair. It lifts the front caster wheels off the ground and drives in a similar fashion to a motorbike.
What Are The Pros Of A Powered Handcycle?
- Great for outdoor use
- Can be removed and secured in the same way you’d secure a push bike when you reach your destination
- Lifts the caster wheels, so they don’t get caught on curbs, stones, etc.
- Mid-range in terms of price
What Are The Cons Of A Powered Handcycle?
- Adds extra length to your wheelchair, so you’ll have similar issues as you would with a mobility scooter when trying to access small spaces with the handcycle attached to your chair
- Lifts the caster wheels, which changes the angle of the wheelchair’s backrest
- Can only be used with a fixed frame active user wheelchair with rigid footplate
Image from bromakin.co.uk
Who Is A Powered Handcycle Most Suited To?
Handcycles are a great option for those who like to explore the outdoors. They’re also a good option for someone who doesn’t drive, but is able to push themselves around indoor spaces. A handcycle would allow these people to get from one location to another easily. They can then detach the handcycle, secure it and use their wheelchair as normal.
A Powered Handcycle For My Needs?
I love the concept of the handcycle and that it’s about half the price of power assist wheels, but unfortunately it just didn’t work for me. My back and neck weren’t able to cope with the angle that the handcycle put my wheelchair’s back rest into. Within minutes of trying the handcycle I was almost screaming to get it off the wheelchair. The person I was demoing this with wasn’t picking up on my high levels of pain, so Dan had to step in. I also had difficult attaching and detaching the handcycle, hurting my wrist in the process of trying.
Image from bromakin.co.uk
Powered Mobility Options: General Advice
I had a conversation about mobility scooters with a fellow patient transport traveller about a year ago. He was shocked and appalled that a GP surgery wasn’t big enough for a transportable mobility scooter to get round, particularly one who had just had a new extension added on to the building.
The conversation left me feeling a little perplexed. Yes, he was absolutely right in his righteous indignation. The GP surgery should absolutely have made sure that they were able to accommodate at least small mobility scooters around the entire new build. I completely agreed with everything he said on this matter. But, it doesn’t change anything. My GP surgery still isn’t big enough for a transportable mobility scooter. I’ve only once seen on used inside the surgery and it was left outside the doctor’s room, blocking access to other rooms for wheelchair and pram users and causing a fire hazard.
So please, please, please, when thinking about what powered mobility options are right for you, consider the spaces you’ll need to use your mobility aid. Don’t assume that buildings and services have a legal requirement to accommodate so it must be fine. If you don’t check the spaces and make sure the aid your considering will fit, you could end up not being able to access the places you need to. And the person that’s going to cause the most distress and hassle to is going to be you.
Whenever possible, try before you buy! Several specialist wheelchair suppliers will make house calls. Dan took me to visit Bromakin a couple of times to try powered mobility options, but I’ve also had reps from RGK and Gerald Simonds visit me at home to test drive different options. These visits were free of charge and with no obligation.
I really hope I’ve remembered to include everything, but with a post this long it’s highly unlikely. So if you’ve any questions, or anything I’ve said isn’t quite making sense, please ask!
As I’ve tried all of the power assist wheels currently on the market, I’ve written a follow up post focussing just on this category of powered mobility options. So if you want to know more about these, check out my Power Assist Wheels: A Comparison post!
Have you considered any of the above options? What are your experiences of using or testing them?
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