All-terrain fun and excitement
Can’t is a four letter word. With an all-terrain wheelchair, you can enjoy a day at the beach, hiking with your friends, or plowing through rocks, gravel or snow.
"It’s great that people are getting out and doing all of those different things,” said John Egan of Natural Access of Santa Monica, Calif. “Some people who use wheelchairs are actually doing more with their lives than people who don’t use wheelchairs, thanks to the kind of technology and other things that make it possible to do anything.”
Companies such as Natural Access, Assistive Technology, Aqua Creek Products, Deming Designs, VIPAMAT Technologie and Medical Products Unlimited offer manual beach and all-terrain wheelchairs. Prices range from $1,089 to $6,000, depending on the cost of material and extra features such as additional support and tilt-and-recline.
Most manual beach wheelchairs are made of either PVC pipe or a type of metal that won’t corrode in salt water. They often use large inflatable “balloon” tires to make the chairs lightweight and easy to maneuver through soft sand.
In some cases, you can get detachable street tires for travel on regular flooring, paved streets and sidewalks. Many beach chairs are portable; they fold or are easily disassembled.
The Hippocampe from VIPAMAT Technologie (at $2,699) has a sleek three-wheel design with mountain bike tires for access to rugged terrain. The ski kit, which affixes under the front wheel, allows for sliding on the snow. The sporty wheelchair can be self-propelled or pushed using the ergonomic push bar.
Besides providing beach wheels to other companies, Wheeleez offers the Platform Beach Wheelchair Dolly (online special price is $795). Have someone push your manual chair up the dolly’s folding ramps, secure it with four tie-down points, and raise the ramps and handle. Then your chair can be transported over sand, grass, dirt and other difficult terrain.
Another option is the Beach Econo Kit from Hotshot Products ($975). The kit turns your wheelchair into an all-terrain vehicle with its four attachable beach wheels.
Some people say that power beach chairs are more susceptible to salt water and sand damage because of the electronics, and they’re heavier and don’t work as well in soft sand. While manual beach chairs are much less expensive than power beach chairs, they require you to be pushed, which limits independence.
With power all-terrain wheelchairs such as those from Innovation In Motion, Teftec, Hotshot Products, TracAbout and Jason Marine Enterprises, you can enjoy the beach, woods or snow without having to rely on someone else to push the chair around. These chairs range from $8,799 to $14,995, but some can be used as all-around wheelchairs.
Most of these power wheelchairs don’t disassemble, so you’ll need an accessible van to transport them.
The Extreme 4x4 ($14,995) from Innovation In Motion has been called the Humvee of wheelchairs. Four powerful motors and huge knobby tires enable the Extreme 4x4 to travel on sand, soft ground, wet ground and slippery surfaces. The Frontier ($12,295), a hybrid between the conventional mid-wheel-drive wheelchair and the Extreme, has two motors and knobby tires.
Both Innovation In Motion all-terrain wheelchairs are narrow enough to fit through standard doorways and onto van lifts.
Most people know about the iBOT Mobility System’s ability to climb stairs and balance on two wheels. Less talked about is the 4-wheel function that enables it to travel over uneven terrain and climb curbs up to 5 inches high. It’s priced at $23,899.
Borrow, rent or buy?
Many beaches, state parks and major hotel chains in popular vacation spots offer beach wheelchairs for guests to borrow during their stays, often free of charge. Another good place to borrow a beach wheelchair is your local MDA loan closet.
|With the Hippocampe from VIPAMAT Technologie, you can wheel yourself or be pushed through the sand and other rough terrain.|
Natalie Lomske of Northville, Mich., borrows an Assistive Technology beach wheelchair from the local MDA office in Farmington Hills when she vacations with her parents, Steve and Cecile, at the family cottage near Lake Michigan. Every summer Natalie, 13, who has congenital muscular dystrophy (CMD), checks out the beach wheelchair from the loan closet for a week or two.
The loan closet has two slightly different beach wheelchairs that are used during MDA summer camp week in Lexington, Mich. The Lomskes prefer the chair with the larger wheels because it’s easier to push in the sand.
A Michigan state park is across the street from the family’s cottage. When visiting the park, with its massive sand dunes, Natalie borrows a Natural Access Landeez from the park so she can enjoy the beach with her family.
“Me and my mom go beach combing all the time and look for shells, rocks and stuff,” said Natalie, who was MDA’s goodwill ambassador for Michigan in 2003 and 2004. “[The beach wheelchair] makes me feel like I can go wherever I want to go instead of being stuck in one place.”
You can also rent a beach chair from a durable medical equipment (DME) dealer, bicycle or surf shop, or a store that specializes in renting accessible equipment. These places often have a variety of beach chairs for rent.
When renting or borrowing a beach wheelchair, be sure to call ahead to reserve the chair, discuss any fees and find out where to pick up the wheelchair. You should ask for specific instructions on the proper use of the chair because some renters and loaners have rules about getting the chair wet, and you don’t want to face an extra fee.
It’s not always easy to find a place that will rent or loan you a power all-terrain wheelchair. If you find one, you’d better act fast because these wheelchairs are popular.
Sometimes it’s more practical to buy a beach or all-terrain wheelchair. If you live near the beach, go on vacations often, or can’t find a place to borrow or rent a chair near your favorite beach, buying a beach chair may be the way to go.
Having your own beach chair means you can use it whenever you want and treat it however you want. You can also customize your own chair by adding any other supports you need.
It never hurts to listen to other people’s advice on the ins and outs of DME products.
Natalie’s parents first noticed the difference between the two beach wheelchairs in the MDA loan closet. One chair (an older model) has small front wheels that make it very hard to push in the sand. The other chair has larger wheels for a smoother ride.
|The Landeez all-terrain wheelchair from Natural Access can roll easily over rocks, sand, snow and gravel on plastic pneumatic tires that absorb road shocks for a comfortable ride.|
“The only drawback with the chairs with the big wheels is that they float. So if you’re in the water and a wave comes in, it can lift the person and chair right into the water and tip them over,” said Steve Lomske. “You have to be aware of that. With the smaller tires, that won’t happen because they’re not as buoyant.”
Some beach wheelchairs have fixed wheels, which makes it difficult to steer. The Landeez all-terrain wheelchair Natalie borrows from the state park has front wheels that swivel, making maneuvering much easier.
Another thing to keep in mind is portability. Lomske says he doesn’t need to disassemble the beach chair because he has an accessible van. But, if you have a small car, he suggests finding a chair that can fold or be disassembled for easy transport.
Aqua Creek Products
Colours in Motion
Innovation In Motion