Why even think of getting a used or second hand wheelchair? Wheelchairs are the sort of thing one never thinks about until they are absolutely essential, and when they are, the cost of acquiring one is often just another of a long list of bills to cover. Make no mistake, wheelchairs don’t come cheap. For the average person with the need for this type of mobility aid, buying used can make a lot of sense.
Unlike buying a used car, when you consider buying a used wheelchair it is probably because you absolutely, positively need it, and you need it right now. But like buying a used car, you should approach your purchase with some basic knowledge so that you don’t end up with something that weighs you down instead of helping you.
Unit Cost (new)
Consider first if you can afford a new one. The more technologically complicated models are obviously better bought new and with a full warranty, especially if they will be constantly in use for a year or more.
The simplest brand new rigid manual wheelchairs start at around $400 but can go up into $2,000 plus. Powered chairs or special designs can easily reach upwards of $15,000.
Manual – A broad term for wheelchairs that do not have motors. The self-propelled types have a pair of big wheels (equipped with push rims) that allow the user to operate it alone, while attendant types usually have all small wheels and require an attendant to push it. Attendant wheelchairs are also called transit wheelchairs.
Power – Also called motorized wheelchairs, these have some sort of motor to propel it. Usually, battery-powered electric motors are used, controlled by a directional joystick fitted to one armrest.
Rigid – This is the simplest design of wheelchairs, allowing limited collapsibility for storage or transport when not in use. These are generally cheaper, although materials used and differences in design also figure greatly in the cost. Both manual and powered chairs come in rigid models.
Folding – Technically, rigid wheelchairs also fold, but true folding wheelchairs are designed to collapse into smaller packages, making them much more convenient to transport or store. Both manual and powered chairs come in folding models.
There are many more subgroups of wheelchairs as well as specialized models such as those built for sport or speed, all-terrain types, units fitted to assist the user to stand, etcetera.
Aside from the cost of the chair itself, modifications or additional accessories may be needed to suit the comfort needs or medical condition of the user. A used chair may need extra accessories, or refurbishment such as replacement of the tires, motor and/or electronics, or refitting of the upholstery. The battery of a well-used chair probably needs replacing, and do check if the old battery charger is compatible with the new battery.
Your house and vehicle may also need modifications for wheelchair accessibility especially when the user wants to maintain a degree of independence. These can range from simple ramps and additional handholds to major installations such as wheelchair lifts to go from floor to floor. A vehicle may require a hydraulic lift, a carrier, or if the user needs to drive; modified driving controls.
Fixing, refurbishing and readjusting a used wheelchair is best left to the professionals, but refer to manufacturer’s instructions as to simple maintenance procedures you can do yourself. This will greatly extend the working life of your chair and reduce repair costs down the road.
Most Importantly, Consider the User
That used wheelchair you find may be in excellent working condition, with a new battery and tires, all for just a small fraction of the price of a brand new unit, but do ask yourself that all-important question: is it the right chair for the person who will spend weeks, months, years, or maybe even the rest of his or her life in it?
Check its physical fit – Wheelchairs are not like t-shirts, one size does not fit all. Most chairs have some degree of adjustability, but do check if the particular chair you are considering can be adjusted enough in terms of hip width, upper and lower leg length, the height of the torso, buttock to elbow distance when seated, chest width and depth, and forearm length. Obviously, nothing will beat a personal fitting, ideally with a therapist or doctor looking on.
Check its psychological fit – Imagine how choosy some people can be with their clothes. A shirt or a pair of pants that aren’t quite the right fit, style or color can ruin your day and get you totally depressed. Now, a person who is suddenly required to be dependent on a wheelchair due to some illness, accident or disability will probably already be suffering from some degree of depression. A wheelchair must therefore suit his or her tastes as much as possible. Someone with a strong personality may prefer a powered chair that can be controlled independently. A frequent traveler will need a light, easily transportable model that will not hinder movement. Even small details such as whether the metal parts are chromed or painted, the color of the chair, whether it looks high-tech or old-fashioned, will play a huge role in how easily a new wheelchair-user will mentally adjust to the situation.