For parents and guardians with a child requiring a wheelchair, making the right choice for their loved one can be a nerve racking – and often expensive – decision. In this article we hope to provide information on children’s wheelchairs that helps family decision makers make an informed choice.
Children in wheelchairs – how many in Australia?
In 2018, 357,500 Australian children (7.7% of children aged under 15) were reported as living with disability. Over one third of them – 36.1% – have a need for assistance with mobility.
Although it is not clear how many of these young Australians needed a children’s wheelchair, we can presume it is a significant proportion. Which means a lot of people find themselves needing to make the right decision around the wheels to their children’s mobility freedom.
When choosing a paediatric wheelchair, it’s important to think about a range of factors to ensure the child can safely enjoy an active and independent lifestyle. Their wheelchair should assist them in improving their quality of life.
Paediatric wheelchair sizes
Children usually grow fairly quickly. So, it is important to find a wheelchair with frames and accessories that can support their physical growth. The less chopping and changing of a wheelchair the better for the bank balance, or your NDIS Capital budget, right?
(On that, if you have not already discussed wheelchair funding with the NDIS please read this).
Kids should always use an appropriately sized wheelchair for their height, weight and place in space. One that’s suitable for their current needs. So it can assist them with those needs as best as possible. Never be tempted to buy a chair that is too big because they will grow into it. This can have serious negative health and social repercussions.
Another important consideration is that a child’s mobility and skills changes over time. What your child can accomplish one year might be noticeably different to the next. The children’s wheelchair must accommodate that, within reason.
Electric wheelchairs for kids vs manual wheelchairs
Generally, there are two types of wheelchairs: self-propelled and powered (or electric) wheelchairs. You will also find there are several power assist add-on devices that can be fitted to manual wheelchairs.
Your child’s medical condition and/or disability, and how that affects their mobility, is the primary influence on the best type of children’s wheelchair for their unique circumstances. Electric versus manual should be a well thought out decision. You may even find both work together to provide the best solution for their ongoing needs.
It is always recommended to discuss wheelchair choice with a specialist, e.g. occupational therapist and/or physiotherapist. They should have enough experience to guide you. They should also be able to answer most of your questions.
In addition, write up a list of questions to ask wheelchair retailers you speak with. They too, should have the experience to help guide you.
The best children’s wheelchairs in Australia? We couldn’t make a judgement as it comes down to the individual. However, Zippie and Panthera are just a couple of brands making electric children’s wheelchairs worthy of checking out.
Transport with children’s wheelchairs
It is obviously essential to be able to transport your child in their wheelchair quickly and easily. Social occasions, medical appointments, visits to the shops, park and more… All should be considered when you think about how your child will be transported best.
Many of today’s children’s wheelchairs have the option of tie downs. They enable the child to be transported in a vehicle while sitting in their wheelchair. This often means kids can be included in school bus excursions, transported to and from school in a school van, and transported easily in a specially modified family vehicle. These are called wheelchair accessible vehicles, or WAVs for short.
Please note that wheelchairs with tie downs need to pass relevant ISO/Australian/NZ standards. A headrest is also required for this purpose. If this is something important to you, mention it to your clinician/therapist and/or wheelchair supplier. Then they will know to find a model with transport capability.
Which leads us to lightweight children’s wheelchairs…
Lightweight children’s wheelchairs
Before buying a wheelchair, think of the different modes of transport your family/child usually uses when travelling. You might find a lightweight children’s wheelchair that works for travel as well as daily life. Or, you might find your child needs both.
Unsurprisingly, manual wheelchairs are usually lighter than electric wheelchairs. However, wheelchair users typically will not have a choice between the two. The choice is dictated by their condition and resulting mobility needs.
Travel with children’s wheelchairs
While some travel services and hotels provide accessible options for electric wheelchairs for kids (and adults), some may not be able to accommodate certain equipment. Sometimes, a manual wheelchair that’s easier to fold up and store might be best.
Unfortunately, if your child can use only an electric wheelchair you may run into issues beyond simple accessibility.
For instance, on a flight they may not be able to travel in their wheelchair, with it being required to be put away (and potentially even disassembled). Your child may not be physically able to sit in a plane chair.
Or they may, however the chair is at risk of being damaged when stored in the hold. We suggest you take a picture pre-flight so you have proof of prior condition.
You could also need to pay extra for your ticket due to the extra weight of the heavy electric wheelchair. Here are some great tips for air travel with an electric wheelchair.
Think through all the modes of transport you will use, such as:
- Cruise ships
- Hire cars
You also need to make sure each potential accommodation provider has wheelchair accessibility from the front door, into and around your room, and throughout the property.
Remember: Always look into your travel providers’ policies and discuss accessibility with them to be on the safe side.
Children’s wheelchairs and propelling
Propelling versus attendant propel function wheelchairs = good question.
The extent and type of your child’s mobility will dictate how well they can propel their wheelchair. In some cases it may be necessary for you or another support team member to help push and guide the wheelchair.
Make sure the wheelchair you select offers both functions, if that is important for you and your child. Remember, the more they can mobilise independently the more opportunity they will have for exploration and socialising. A crucial part of growing up!
Tilt function on paediatric wheelchairs
If your child is high needs in that they need assistance with feeding and/or breathing, for example, you may want to look closely at a wheelchair’s tilt function. A children’s wheelchair that can tilt several ways can be a terrific assister with feeding, digestion, respiratory function and/or visual orientation.
Just as importantly, it can also help support the child’s positioning needs and comfort.
When they are in a wheelchair many hours of the day it is crucial their wheelchair is comfortable and effective in its assistance of daily living and enhancing their development.
Children’s wheelchair insurance
Just like a car, a wheelchair is a vital piece of equipment that transports people to where they need to go every day. To be without it usually causes considerable inconvenience – and with a wheelchair this inconvenience is amplified.
That is why it is important to seriously think about wheelchair insurance. This will help safeguard your investment and get your child back on their wheels again quickly.
You might even find the NDIS covers the cost of your children’s wheelchair insurance. Contact Blue Badge Insurance if you have any questions. We are happy to help and after many years as a disability insurance specialist we know what we are talking about.