Volume 19 · Issue 3 · May/June 2009 | Download PDF
by Chris Dyas
Self-expression is an important part of childhood development; kids experiment with all facets of life in their attempt to understand their place in it. Their wheelchair is an extension of their personality and one that others closely associate with them. For years the venerable wheelchair stubbornly remained fixed, unwilling to adapt to the individual.
The Internet is the single most powerful resource when searching for equipment, ideas, help or support regarding assisted living (or anything else, for that matter). But be forewarned.
Choose any search engine, such as Google or Yahoo, and type in “wheelchairs for kids” or “wheelchair accessories for kids” and the number of Web sites that are presented is overwhelming. Further complicating your search, each of these Web sites usually has links to even more sites. Separating the wheat from the chaff can be daunting and time-consuming, however. To help you get started, here are just a few sites that kids, or their parents, may find interesting.
A clearinghouse of data regarding assistive technology, ABLEDATA (http://www.abledata.com) is a good place to begin. This is a large site and covers a lot of ground beyond just for kids.
That said, however, there are several sites here that target them specifically. For example, you can find selections for Child’s Manual Wheelchair, Child’s Powered Wheelchair and Child’s Transport Chair. Other selections worth peeking into are Sport Wheelchairs and Wheelchair Accessories.
Another helpful Web site is WheelchairNet (http://www.wheelchairnet.org). Describing itself as “a virtual community for people that have a common interest,” this site is loaded with information. Like ABLEDATA, it caters to wheelchair users in general, but also includes sites that are specifically designed for kids and their parents. The primary difference between the two sites is that ABLEDATA is technically oriented while WheelchairNet, in addition to technical information, has links to a variety of other general information and fun sites. The best place to begin is to select the Community Living menu at the top of the page. Here you will find links titled “Kids Who Use Wheelchairs” and “Parents of Kids Who Use Wheelchairs.” If you are strictly looking for wheelchair manufacturers, select Products and Services at the top of the page, and then go to Wheelchairs and Scooters. There you will find a comprehensive list of every type of mobility device for all ages.
Perhaps you are wondering what other wheelchair users are using and want some advice. Billing itself as the “Internet’s Largest and Friendliest Disney Community,” DISboards (http://www.disboards.com) is a place for people to meet and exchange information on a variety of topics for and about living with a disability. The discussion forum includes a variety of threads, or topics, but the one titled “Wheelchair Personalizing” is the one to look for. There you can browse through what others have already posted, or, if you have a specific question about how others personalized their wheelchair, simply type it in.
Although the following Web sites for wheelchairs are not kid-specific, depending on the capability of the child, these machines offer an alternative that may work well for him or her.
Flight Ultralight Wheelchairs (http://www.airwheelchair.com) proposes that “less is more.” This manufacturer claims to have the “world’s lightest, rigid, folding frame wheelchair now in production.” The wheelchair, when folded, measures less than 3 inches across, and at just 18 lbs. it is one of the lightest wheelchairs you can buy. The idea is that the light weight and compact size allows the user greater freedom of movement. In addition, the wheelchair can be customized by choosing between different colors and decals.
Magic Wheels (http://www.magicwheels.com) is a manufacturer of a geared wheelchair. The concept of having a low gear to downshift into for ascending steep grades is similar to that used by bicyclists and manual transmission automobile drivers. Plus, when low gear is engaged, an automatic feature prevents the wheelchair from rolling backwards. The lower gear can also be used to descend steep grades, providing better control with less effort. Magic Wheels can be purchased as a complete unit or you can upgrade your current wheelchair. However, not all wheelchairs are upgradeable, so check their Web site for compatibility.
The Wijit (http://www.wijit.com) is another interesting example of gearing designed to expand the capability of the wheelchair. Unlike Magic Wheels, which still requires the operator to turn the wheel ring by hand, the Wijit is a lever connected to the wheels that is used to propel them.
Like Magic Wheels, however, which uses gears to gain a mechanical advantage to propel the wheelchair, Wijit gearing creates an advantage by amplifying the user’s pushing and pull power. A shifter at the top of the lever controls whether you push them to move forward or pull them to back up. The shifter can also disengage the gearing if the wheelchair is to be propelled by the wheel rings or by someone else.
Like Magic Wheels, the Wijit can be purchased as a complete unit or as an upgrade for your current wheelchair. Again, not all wheelchairs are upgradeable; check their Web site for compatibility. Wijit does make a child-specific wheelchair. Called the Voyager, it is a resized Wijit system mounted on a 20-inch wheel.
But it’s not all about function. You can have a little fun with adding “bling” to your wheelchair. Allegro Medical (http://www.allegromedical.com) offers, among traditional equipment and accessories, spinner wheels, light-up casters and cool backpacks.
There you have it, a smattering of Web sites from the quantity that you will find on the Internet. Although this list is short, each site should be helpful in some way regarding a child and their comfort and relationship with their wheelchair.
But if none of these have met your needs or helped to answer a question, just continue searching because the Internet is getting bigger every day and new sites are always popping up.