Pediatric wheelchairs come in about a million different forms. To help clarify things, I divided pediatric chairs into three major categories. This isn’t an official thing, but it helped me when I was comparing various models. The main categories are standard, tilt, and stroller-style. I suggest checking them all out to get a feel for what type is the best fit for your family.
So how did I classify a standard wheelchair? A standard wheelchair is one that has little or no tilt. The seat may recline, but the overall frame does not. It also looks like a wheelchair–not like a stroller. Basically, it’s a chair that looks like a classic wheelchair and doesn’t have any serious bells and whistles. These chairs are best suited for children who have good trunk control.
Here are a few of the highlights in the Standard Chair category:
The Quickie Zippie Zone from Sunrise Medical. The Zippie Zone replaces the Quickie Zippie, which is what my son, Charlie, owns. Sunrise and their Quickies are pretty ubiquitous in the pediatric wheelchair community. Sunrise is one of the largest medical equipment manufacturers in the U.S. Sunrise acts like a big company–they’re dependable, but not terribly innovative. Of course, some may question how innovative you have to be with a chair–if it ain’t broke, why fix it? They make good chairs at a reasonable price point.
From my perspective, the Zone has three great features: it collapses, it grows, and it’s light. Collapseable is good because not every family is ready to run out and buy a mini van. Growable is good because even if your child eventually moves on to another chair, they have a backup. This is especially good if your child’s next chair will be a powerchair. This combination of folding and growing is what sets the Zone apart from many similar models. That combined with a great price point, and a light-weight frame (just 14 pounds) will make it a must-have for many families.
Invacare makes a similar chair that I’ve heard almost nothing about called the MVP Jr. It is also collapseable and growable. It’s also cheaper than the Zone. Invacare is another large medical equipment company so that’s a plus as far as dependability and availability goes. I’m not sure if this chair has poor marketing, but it’s extremely similar to the Zone except it folds vertically and the Zone has a fold down back. It’s also about three pounds heavier than the Zone (17 lbs.), which might be a big deal if you spend a lot of your time lifting the chair (like we do). If cost is an issue, however, you might want to look at the MVP Jr. instead.
TiLite offers two standard wheelchairs, the YR and the YG that are made out of titanium. The appeal of titanium is that it’s thought to reduce vibrations from road travel. This can be especially helpful is your child has a medical condition that might cause bone or joint pain. Titanium is also much lighter than aluminum, so these chairs are supposed to weigh less then their aluminum counter-parts. Compared to the Zippie Zone, however, it comes in at 13.7 pounds compared to the Zone’s 14–I’m not sure you’d be able to tell the difference. The YG and the YGS both have some growability, but they don’t fold. The YR model doesn’t have growability because it’s custom built for each user.
I’m now going to mention two chairs that seem to split the difference between standard and tilt. They both offer a seat recline action, but not the “full tilt” that’s available in a tilt chair. Tilt keep the body is perfect posture as it rotates the user back. Recline is more like a recliner in your living room–the back moves, but the change in direction might cause the pelvis to slide forward. Children who will be needed rest often, should go with a tilt chair and not a recline option. I’ll put these same descriptions in the tilt section to make sure people have access to all the information.
The Cheetah from Snug Seat claims to be “the most innovative and stylish pediatric wheelchair in a decade.” I don’t know about all that, but it is a nice-looking and unusual wheelchair. It caught the eye of several people I know when it was seen on the short-lived TLC show “Table for Twelve.” The three wheel design is interesting and Snug Seat tells us that it allows for a smooth pivot. They also believe that the three-wheel design allows the chair to slide smoothly under desks and tables. From my perspective, the most interesting thing about the Cheetah is that it has a back that reclines to up to twenty-eight degrees. This would be great for a child that normally sits upright, but that might need to rest on longer trips. This chair doesn’t fold, but it is growable. At 22 pounds, it’s heavier than most standard chairs, but that’s lighter than many tilt chairs so it might be a good fit for some families.
There’s also the Comet from Invacare. Again, I had a tough time getting information on this chair–Invacare might need to step up their public profile a bit. Similar to the Cheetah, the Comet offers a reclining seat–their seat reclines to twenty degrees–for children who don’t require a full tilt option. It’s growable, but not collapseable. The thing that sets this chair apart, however, is the reverse option, which allows the large steering wheels to be in front. This would allow a child with small stature easy access for steering. This might be the perfect fit for a small child who is still able to do their own steering. Again, it’s heavier than most standard chairs at 22.5 pounds, but that’s still on the light side for a tilt chair.
Are you tired yet? Your head spinning? Me too. And this is only the tip of the ice burg. There are other chairs in this category and then there are the other two categories. I have created some super-useful, downloadable PDF comparison charts for each of the three categories. You may want to print those out and look them over or share them with the professionals that are helping you select your chair.