My new Spinlife Power Wheelchair was just delivered. In getting used to it, do you have any recommendations and tips on how I can maximize power wheelchair performance? I live in Detroit and plan on using it a lot around town. Thanks. -Motoring in the Motor City
Hello Motoring in the Motor City,
Congratulations on your first power chair. There’s no doubt it’s going to get you out and about, giving you the mobility you need and deserve.
I know it may sound a bit basic, but the first tip toward maximizing your power wheelchair performance is to read the owner’s manual. It illustrates all of the features, including vital ones, such as how to operate the hand control (joystick), use the free-wheel levers (for manual pushing in an emergency), adjust aspects like the seat height, footplate, and so on. Some users simply sit in a new power chair and go, but it’s vital to read the owner’s manual, learning all of the functions and features of your power chair.
Now that you’ve read the owner’s manual, and are an expert on your power chair, let’s turn you into a pro….
The number one key to maximizing power wheelchair performance is in properly caring for the batteries from day one. Leading power chair battery manufacturers are very consistent in how to care for your batteries to get maximum driving range and lifespan:
- New batteries take 15 to 20 use/recharge cycles to break-in and reach full capacity, so allow this break-in period before experiencing maximum driving range
- During the break-in cycle, try not to drain the batteries below 50% on your battery gauge
- No matter how little you use your power chair, recharge the batteries every night
- Never let your power chair go for several days without being charged
- If you’re not using your power chair for an extended period, recharge it weekly to account for the fact that batteries self-discharge when not in use
- Remember that manufactures’ advertised driving ranges are optimal and can be less based on your real-world use and varied conditions
Firstly, get to know your new power chair with a few short trips, keeping an eye on the battery gauge. This will help you understand its real-world battery range. Once you have an understanding of your power chair’s range, you can maximize power wheelchair performance by driving smooth and steady. Not unlike a car, your power chair uses about twice as much energy accelerating from a stop than it does at a steady speed, so minimizing your starts and stops can maximize battery range. Similarly, driving on grass uses three times the energy as driving on pavement, so being aware of the terrain you’re on can help you achieve optimal range. Lastly, if you’re going on an extended trip around town, don’t underestimate the amount of energy your power chair uses before leaving the house – indoor maneuvering can use up more battery than many realize.
Driving Like a Pro
Modern power chair design has made them more maneuverable than ever – some turn within their own space. However, driving skill can ease use and enhance performance. Have you ever noticed that in driving cars, drivers have far more difficulty reversing than going forward? The same holds true for power chairs. While reversing is necessary – and practice makes perfect! – don’t be afraid to use forward movement and turning to your advantage. For example, on compliant, accessible buses, it can be very difficult to back on to the lift, then back up the aisle to your spot. If possible, drive in forward, then turn around. This simple technique of going forward and turning around in appropriate spaces can save time and aggravation.
In using a power chair, you may encounter thresholds, rough curb cuts and obstacles. The single biggest mistake I see users make is hitting these at speed – it’s ineffective and can be dangerous. To effectively, safely climb an obstacle, pull up to it, stop, then accelerate. If it’s safe to climb, the power chair will comfortably do its job and surmount it. If the obstacle is too tall, the power chair will simply stop. This is the safest, most effective way to climbing obstacles.
Partnering With Your Power Chair
Ultimately, the way to maximize power wheelchair performance is by partnering with it. Learning your power chair’s nuances – from proper charging to maneuvering to terrain handling – will inherently optimize your power chair’s performance. And, when your power chair’s performance is optimized, it gives you more of an opportunity to enjoy why you got your power chair in the first place: to foster your independence.
Enjoy motoring around Motor City!