Fun and functional wheelchair accessories
As advanced as wheelchairs have become in recent years, it still seems they can be improved in function, comfort or appearance. A growing worldwide industry that caters to the wheelchair accessories market attests to the desire of wheelchair users to make their means of mobility a little bit better.
Frog Legs (800-922-2129) makes shock absorbers for wheelchair wheels that the company says eliminate about three-fourths of the rough in rough rides, including bumping over door thresholds. The shocks replace a chair’s existing front caster forks. Polymer cushions inside reduce impacts and vibrations. Prices start at about $300 for manual chairs (6-, 7-, 8- and 9-inch wheels) and go up for power models.
Better brake grip
The brake locking levers on most manual wheelchairs tend to be stubby affairs that are challenging for people with limited hand mobility. Brake lever extenders give users an easier grip and more leverage, such as the Wheelchair Brake Lever Extension from AliMed (800-225-2610). Extensions (with yellow or gray tips) are available in lengths of 6, 8 and 9 inches, starting at about $25.
Speaking of stopping, AliMed also makes Front Anti-Tippers with Bumpers for wheelchairs (about $112). In addition to keeping chairs from tipping forward, the plastic bumpers minimize impacts (and skid marks) on walls and furniture that the chair may inadvertently encounter.
People who spend extended periods in their wheelchairs are familiar with the pains and even skin tears that can result from prolonged contact of their elbows with the chair’s armrest. Elbow supports are one way to deal with this. Visco Foam (sometimes called memory foam) Elbow Pads mold themselves to the arm’s configurations within a few minutes of contact. A pair of washable pads (with hold-in-place bands) made by Skil-Care Corp. costs about $35 (800-963-2972).
If standard wheelchair armrests start to feel a bit “skinny,” one way to gain some comfortable horizontal support and wiggle room is with a padded tray such as the Therafin Padded Flip-Away Arm Support (800-843-7234). Selling for about $140, the support is vinyl-covered foam rubber (with an indented drink holder) that attaches to standard armrests, is height-adjustable and can be flipped up and away from the user as needed.
Polyester Shearling Wheelchair Footrest Covers (not shown) from Care Apparel (800-320-7140) are 44 ounces of fluffy comfort that may persuade wheelchair users to spend more time luxuriating in their stocking feet. Shearling covers the complete footrest, including swivel joints. One pair, machine washable, runs about $30.
Liquid Caddy (not shown) (952-944-5877) is a beverage holder that’s both gimbaled and adjustable. The gimbal aspect refers to pivoted rings that swing freely when mounted to a wheelchair frame, so the holder keeps drink containers level even when the chair tilts. A neoprene liner insulates both hot and cold drinks, and the holder’s length is adjustable. The $24 unit comes with a suction mount, clip mount and hook-and-loop (Velcro) mount to accommodate just about any attachment need.
Living Eazy’s CP/TC1000 (877-511-9699) adds new versatility to wheelchair tray tops by mounting a small tray on an aluminum tube that can be clamped to any bar or pole on a wheelchair’s frame. The height-adjustable aluminum tube (see photo at right) is outfitted with a cup holder and a handy hook for a key ring, cell phone or shopping bags; the polypropylene tray table top easily swings out of the way when not needed. The whole unit fits in a tote bag with a reflective strip that mounts on the rear of the wheelchair. Cost is about $200, plus shipping/handling.
At a roomy 24-inches by 22-inches and weighing only 7 pounds, the polyethylene Laptop Wheelchair Desk (not shown) from Maddak/Ableware (973-628-7600) offers a bundle of work area amenities. Its lid lifts to reveal storage space underneath for laptop computers, newspapers, books, etc., and the lid itself adjusts to create a flat or tilted surface for reading, writing and laptop use. Recesses in the tray top accommodate drinks, pens, cell phones or what-have-you. Hook-and-loop straps secure the desk to standard-sized wheelchair arms. Cost: about $95.
Especially for wheelchair users who can’t reach around to the back of their chair to extract personal items from a backpack, the Wheelchair/Walker/Scooter Bag, about $20 from Granny Jo Products (863-698-9130), is a boon. The sturdy cotton duck bag has adjustable straps so it can be strapped outside or inside the chair’s armrest. The bag’s large top opening closes with hook-and-loop (Velcro), while a zippered pocket on the side is good for storing a cell phone. Inside, the bag has a key ring holder and slots for ID or credit cards.
When one person is charged with pushing another in a manual wheelchair, neither of the two can enjoy a side-by-side stroll — unless they’re utilizing the Sidewinder Auxiliary Push Handle from Troy Technologies (800-840-1665). The somewhat cane-shaped device attaches to the side of a wheelchair and, when folded out, allows the chair pusher and chair user to toodle along next to each other. The telescoping handle adjusts for individual convenience and, in narrow navigation spots, the Sidewinder folds up close to the chair. Cost is about $140.
Come rain or shine
For wheelchair users who get caught in a brief rain shower or an extended stay in the sun, the FlipShield can offer quick protection. The unit uses flexible fiberglass tent-pole technology to flip up a lightweight but sturdy nylon panel overhead and a second panel that protects the chair occupant from the rear. The chair user’s weight keeps the assembly in place. When not needed, the shield can be folded up, stored in its own pocket and hung on the back of the chair. From Mobility Direct (877-914-1830); price is about $70.
Flat tires on wheelchairs are every bit as discomfiting as flats on automobiles. Kenda American Airless (614-552-0146) helps avoid that dreaded thump-thump sound by replacing standard tires with ones that are either foam-inflated or have lightweight tubular polymer inserts. The foam-inflated version starts at about $30; complete assemblies (including the tire rim) run upwards of $45; and polymer inserts cost about $20.
From across the pond in the United Kingdom comes Wheelchair Slippers (not shown) offered by Global Leather (firstname.lastname@example.org). Selling for about $44, they’re circular, foam-lined suede-type covers that fit over 24-inch wheels to protect hands, clothes and room interiors from whatever one’s wheelchair may have brought in from outside.
And for those who 1) insist on not tracking wheelchair wheel grime indoors, and 2) have a very flexible budget, there’s the $3,565 (not including shipping and handling) wheel-cleaning gizmo called NO-TRACS (608-834-1661). Operated with a wireless remote control, the unit sets up on flat or ramped surfaces. A nearby electrical outlet is required to power its spinning brushes and a standard refillable water cooler jug supplies water. Cleaning is a three-step process: First the wheelchair user drives forward until front wheels engage the NO-TRACS brushes for 30 seconds, then the rear wheels for another 30. Last, the chair is backed off the NO-TRACS and onto the supplied drying rug for a squeaky clean set of wheels.