We are constantly searching for ways to make life easier day to day and when we travel. We don’t want pesky little issues keeping Braeden from leading a full life. And we certainly want to ensure we can continue to have as many varied travel adventures as possible. As I said in another blog post recently, we are conscious that we need to take care of ourselves as Braeden’s parents and primary carers. Part of acknowledging that is being a bit kinder to our bodies. So, we decided to ask our occupational therapist about power assist options. This week we had a trial of the Alber E-fix power assist for manual wheelchairs with the idea of making wheelchair travel easier. As always, I was keen to share the experience with you all.
Power assist for wheelchair accessible travel
We find travelling with Braeden’s manual wheelchair, rather than his power wheelchair, much easier for a range of reasons. The manual chair allows us to hire a standard four wheel drive or people mover at our destination because Braeden’s wheelchair can be pulled apart to assist with fitting it into a vehicle. It’s also simpler when it comes to air travel and when Braeden isn’t wheeling himself, Hubby and I can share the pushing. I am the world’s worst attendant control driver of Braeden’s power wheelchair. Think running over toes, crashing into walls, driving either so fast that I can’t walk behind it quick enough, or so slow that we will never get to where we need to go.
But we acknowledge there has been many times during our travels where we wish we could kick in some power and take the grunt out of the hills. Hubby and I are not good at skipping places just because of an incline, however half way up we often wonder why we are so stubborn.
So, it’s time to at least explore the options in power assist to make our wheelchair travels more accessible. The Alber E-fix power assist for manual wheelchairs was our first option.
Here’s the pros and cons as I see them.
It’s fab to have the option of the wheelchair user controlling the power assist or the option of the attendant control on the handle. Braeden gets quite tired controlling a power chair, in crowds its a bit dangerous and sometimes we just need to move faster than he can drive it so we need to be able to help out when needed. Unlike Braeden’s power chair, the attendant control on this option doesn’t use a joystick but the handle steers the chair. Surely, even I could manage that.
Braeden puts so much pressure on joysticks with his strong grip the knobs of all these things come off including the one we trialled yesterday.
Hubby reported it is easier to use than other attendant controls so that’s a pro.
A con for me with this power assist is the weight associated with the battery pack and the heavier wheels. I currently have no issue lifting Braeden’s manual chair into the station wagon boot (trunk for our US friends) of my car. The additional weight of this power assist set up would mean the chair would need the wheels taken off each time. And while that isn’t a big deal, anything that makes things take longer tends to put me off as I know it will make outings trickier.
It was great to see how quickly Braeden got back into the groove of driving a power assisted chair. He was not happy with the slow speed he was started on but a big smile and a woohoo could be heard once it was adjusted to a more suitable pace. Having a power assist system would allow him to have the best of both worlds of a manual chair and a power chair in one. We might need to do something about jazzing up a power assist system though, grey and white is all a bit bland for our colourful guy.
While I’m not sold on the power assist we trialled yesterday, I do like the sound of a new product that’s due out sometime in September. It sounds less clunky and there is an option to switch out wheels with Braeden’s current manual chair wheels so we could use the power assist for a day when we knew we’d be tackling big hills – I’m looking at you Taronga Zoo, or we could have his regular wheels for a day that was mainly involving level walks.
We’ll keep you posted and share the process with you along the way. In the meantime, I’m keen to hear about any power assist products you’ve bought and used and what you’ve found to be the pros and cons.
We did our trial with Leon from Mogo Wheelchairs. We have no affiliation with Mogo except for being raving fans of the custom builds the team have put together for Braeden’s four wheelchairs, including his current manual chair.
You can read about the design of Braeden’s current manual wheelchair here.
If you’re keen to read about the off-road tyres we have that help us travel read this blog.
We also trialled the FreeWheel for our trip to Fiji and wrote about it in this story.