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Seat elevation is a key accessibility element for power wheelchairs, but it is often forsaken in the design process. Although it is widely viewed as a luxury add-on, vertical elevation has a huge potential to increase users’ independence and quality of life.
However, this type of design innovation also presents an abundance of personalisation options, so it is vital that potential buyers select a seat elevation system which meets their specific needs.
What is a Seat Elevation System?
Seat elevation is a tool designed to raise and lower the height of the seat, whilst keeping the user steady and safe. The elevation mechanism sits in between the wheelchair base and the seat, and is most often controlled by a joystick or a button on the arm of the chair. There is a variety of different power wheelchairs available on the market which offer vertical elevation and other add-ons, such as the ability to tilt or recline the seat.
Physical and Practical Benefits of Seat Elevation Systems
Elevation systems can improve day-to-day accessibility and independence for wheelchair users. For example, instead of straining to reach the top shelf in a tall cupboard or asking for assistance, users can simply raise their seat height instead. This can be a useful tool for people with limited arm mobility, and also aids in the reduction and prevention of strain injuries.
Transfers from wheelchairs to other surfaces, such as beds and chairs, are much easier with the aid of an elevation system. The height of the wheelchair seat can be raised to match that of the surface that the user is moving to, making for a swift and effortless transfer. This can also mean a significant reduction in the need for home and workplace adaptations, saving users money and space.
Social Benefits of Elevated Wheelchair Seats
The ability to raise a wheelchair to the eye level of other people in a social setting can have a marked improvement on a wheelchair user’s self confidence and social skills. This elevated position can also reduce the risk of neck and back strain and allows for better visibility and a more involved role in social settings.
Considerations For Selecting an Elevation System
Two key considerations when selecting a wheelchair with a seat elevation system are the user's safety and specific personal needs. If you are planning to elevate your chair for heightened visibility when crossing roads, for example, it is important to note that not all systems allow forward movement when the elevation mechanism is in use.
However, there are systems which permit movement at a restricted speed when the seat is elevated, such as Sunrise Medical's C-Me system. Power chairs with the C-Me system normally travels at a pace of 10 kilometres per hour, but slows to a much safer five kilometres per hour when the seat is in an elevated position.
When using an elevation system, it is also important to remember that as the wheelchair's seat is raised, the user’s center of gravity will shift. The system should be equipped to stabilise the user and keep identical seat to back and seat to floor angles as when the chair is in regular use.
Potential buyers may also find it useful to first measure the height of surfaces in and around the home that will need to be accessed regularly. This can help ensure that the selected wheelchair will provide access to those heights.
Users should also keep in mind that the elevation mechanism under the seat may increase the chair's overall seat to floor height, which can alter the chair's ability to fit under tables, benches, and other low surfaces.
Power wheelchair seat elevation systems offer an abundance of benefits for users. From preventing strain injuries to increasing accessibility, it is clear that seat elevation is a key aspect of improved independence and mobility for wheelchair users.
There are many things to consider when selecting the system that works best for you, and it is important to prioritise your safety and individual needs to ensure the best fit possible. To assist in the process of selecting a suitable seat elevation system, we recommend that you contact a trusted and knowledgeable dealer who can assess your needs and help you find a solution that matches you and your lifestyle.