I think me or someone I care for needs a wheelchair. What do I need to know about the process?

To start, Occupational Therapists (OTs) are skilled in the prescribing and trialling of wheelchair options that will meet your needs both in the short term and long term. Just as important, knowing how to use a wheelchair is critical and OTs are also skilled in providing wheelchair skills training.

Wheelchair options may include manual and powered wheelchairs, as well as power add-on options such as the Click and Go lite for manual wheelchairs.

The wheelchair assessment process

Your OT will complete a comprehensive assessment with you focusing on two key aspects: your mobility and wheelchair needs. Such is the extensive range of wheelchairs available; your OT may recommend wheelchair trials during the initial assessment or during follow-up appointments.

Once the ideal wheelchair is identified, your OT will ensure that the wheelchair is configured to suit your body frame. Wheelchair configuration can define a user’s activity level. There are many variables involved in the proper configuration of a manual wheelchair, including seat width and depth, back recline angle, position of the wheels, depth and height of the armrests, height and angle of footrest and tension adjustable backrests. Additionally, OTs will consider aspects such as transfers to and from your wheelchair, pressure care issues, accessibility around the house and community access.

In tandem, your OT will schedule wheelchair skills training. This usually involves approximately three sessions in your home environment and in your local community.

How can you help your OT with the initial assessment?

Your OT will be able to compile a comprehensive report if they have access to your medical records. The more information you can make available, the more detailed the OTs report will be.

If this is your first time considering the use of a wheelchair, then the more medical information you can share with your OT, the better. Also, run though a list of all the places where you’ll be using your wheelchair. This list will be a critical information to help the OT prepare a shortlist of wheelchairs for you to consider.

If you already are a wheelchair user, then provide your OT with as much detail about your current wheelchair as possible. Perhaps, you have an alternative in mind, and this will guide the OT in compiling their recommendations.