Reaching higher levels, for example ordering at a café or bar, or trying to reach something on a high up shelf, is one of the common difficulties wheelchair users may experience. Frequently, only horizontal mobility is taken into account, but vertical mobility could be just as important. Often this need is perceived as a luxury. However, the ability to rise up in a powerchair has huge potential to increase the user’s quality of life.
Vertical mobility whilst in a wheelchair is generally achieved with the seat elevation function.
This functionality enables the complete seating system to raise and lower the person in the wheelchair while maintaining the same seat to back and seat to floor angles, giving the user access to many vertical levels.
Not only does this possibility have physical, psychological and functional benefits, but it also enhances the user’s independence with the ability to actively participate in other life experiences and situations without needing help from another person, and without the risk of injury.
Physical and Functional Benefits
Using seat elevation enables users to reach and access higher levels. Not only allowing them to get from point A to B, but also allowing them to complete other actions above shoulder level with less effort. Daily activities that are usually difficult for a wheelchair user to perform could be easily performed independently, for example: cooking, reaching something on the highest shelf of the fridge, reaching a cupboard, ordering in a bar or asking for something in a shop, or at a reception counter.
Subsequently, as the user is now able to perform a wider range of actions, their independence will increase significantly, making their environment more accessible. A further benefit of seat elevation is that it could also result in fewer home adaptations which could save the user money. Also, since there is no need to continuously extend the arms to access higher levels, the risk of suffering strain injuries decreases.
Transfers are also easier with a power wheelchair with seat elevation, especially when transferring from the wheelchair to surfaces at higher or equal levels (for example, to the bed). Transferring from a higher level into a lower one while using a sliding board and gravity, will always be easier for both the wheelchair user and the carer. Once again, he or she will need less upper limb effort lessening the risk of injuries.
The main social benefit that seat elevation provides is a physical and psychological benefit. As the user is elevated they are able to maintain eye contact with other people. This position reduces the risk of a neck or an upper back injury, as the user is not needing to stretch repetitively to look up and interact with those around them.
A raised position can allow for better visibility. This can be useful when crossing or driving down a crowded street.
Considerations when choosing seat elevation
The most important aspect to take into account when making use of seat elevation systems in power wheelchairs is the safety of the user. When the seat lifts, the centre of gravity raises, affecting the wheelchairs stability. That is why most of the powerchairs cannot be driven when the seat is elevated as it would be risky for the user. Alternatively, some wheelchair models are set up to slow down the speed when driving at greatest elevation by default, to avoid potential incidents. For example, Sunrise Medical’s seat elevation function, C-Me, allows a speed of 5 kilometres (3 miles) per hour when the seat is elevated to 300mm. Whilst lowered the speed can reach up to 13 kilometres (8 miles) per hour.
Another consideration is the height a seat elevation mechanism can achieve. Depending on the user’s preferences and needs, they will need to check the elevation range that the various chairs offer.
The lowest seat to floor height may also need to be considered. As the elevation mechanism is installed between the base and the seat, the lowest possible seat to floor height may be increased affecting accessibility, for instance, the ability to sit under the table, or access under a sink.
Seat elevation has many benefits for power wheelchair users, allowing increased independence as well as preventing pain and injuries in the upper extremities.
If you want to learn more about seat elevation systems, contact your local Quickie authorised agent and request a product demonstration, so a professional can check and assess if seat elevation would be a good solution for you and your environment.
Want to find out more about power wheelchairs with a rise function? Check out the Q500 and Q700 ranges of Quickie powered wheelchairs, or book a free demonstration with one of our authorised Quickie agents.