For any quadriplegics out there wondering what it’s like to finally try a power assist tech on a manual wheelchair after years of using a power wheelchair, this blog post is for you. I have been using a power chair for over 20 years and am looking into getting a power assist manual wheelchair. The time is nigh to finally add better mobility to my life.
It won’t be a full-time replacement for my power chair however. I want to get power assist tech in a manual chair to enhance my lifestyle. It will be something I plan on using often when traveling, when visiting family and friends in their homes, when my van breaks for medical appointments and more. It’ll also come in handy when I need to ride in someone else’s car.
I’m super excited about all of this too. My search has just commenced. If you’re interested in doing the same, your first step is letting your doctor know you want to get a new wheelchair. If your insurance allows it, your next step is to be referred to a physical therapist who will meet with you to go over the best wheelchairs for your situation.
My first meeting with my physical therapist was last month. They measured me and had me try out the standard manual wheelchair without any power assist just to make sure I wasn’t bluffing and could actually push. After proving my badass biceps could still push myself down the hallway and back, she signed me up for my next appointment – trying out the power assist technology.
There are a lot of companies making power assist technology. Ever since I saw the e-Motion power assist rims that became available over a decade ago, I was sold on the idea, but I never was able to try them. And then I began to see everybody using the SmartDrive power assist wheel the last couple of years, which has reawakened my desire to finally try this technology. Even quadriplegics are using this great power assist wheel.
After talking to my physical therapist about my excitement for the SmartDrive, she unfortunately told me that my level of injury may prevent me from being able to use it safely because there is a wristband you must wear to operate it (there is a button on it that you must hit). I don’t have any finger movement so this might be tricky, not to mention dangerous. I can see myself flying into a wall even now.
So last week I had my appointment to try my first power assist tech, and my PT chose a Tailwind Power Assist wheelchair. This is a wheelchair that comes with its own power assist technology built right in. They come together, which may be a drawback to some because of the price, but for those in the market for both products – a wheelchair and power assist – it’s great.
The rep, who was really nice, explained to me that his brother had cerebral palsy which brought him into the industry. Apparently, the Tailwind Power Assist wheelchair is the old e-Motion power assist technology once owned by Johnson & Johnson.
And there is one aspect that makes this power assist technology different than the SmartDrive – you must always push yourself to go. There is a motor in each wheel and the sensors are connected to a battery/motherboard that is underneath the seat. After they transferred me to into the wheelchair, they explained how it works: Gently push the rim (not the tire) to activate the power assist in the wheel, and you’ll feel the wheelchair begin to go immediately. They also warned not to over push either wheel, unless I’m a big fan of going in a circle.
My first thought once I tried it – phenomenal. “So this is what it’s like to be a paraplegic,” I joked, but it was actually the truth. It was as if my arms were strong in both the biceps and triceps; pushing was as easy as bobbing my head. For a quadriplegic who is used to everything being difficult, this was not only a breath of fresh air, it was almost like I was getting some type of mobility returned.
They also had me go up a ramp as part of the demo, and then let go of the rims to see how it senses that when the hands leave the rims, it instantly slows itself down into turtle mode (so cool). Each wheel can also have its sensitivity adjusted by the push of a button on either side of the chair, so this was nice and easy for me to reach. I plan on testing it one more time this week to go on grass, and to use it up the ramp in my van.
But a downer guys, I just found out Medicaid in Minnesota has changed since the last time I got a manual wheelchair, which was 20 years ago. Apparently you can no longer get both a manual and power wheelchair. You have to choose only one, no back-ups, which unfortunately leaves me with a hard decision of having to say goodbye to the power assist wheelchair dream, at least for the time being.
But that is not stopping me. I will still get one somehow, someway. I plan on demoing power assist wheelchairs, and even sending in an approval request to Medicaid to see if I get lucky too. I can’t stop. All I know is that trying this cutting edge technology is really exciting for this longtime quad. I have a new #lifegoal and I’m seriously going to make it happen.
Are you a quad who’s tried power assist? What technology is your favorite?
Find out more: Tailwind Power Assist Wheelchair