Power Wheelchair - steering

KarstBoy

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How long did it take you to master steering your power wheelchair? We received our wheelchair last week and it seems to have a steep learning curve.

My PALs and I have practiced a couple of times in our garage as we wait for house ramps and wheelchair van. Steering that beast is nowhere near as easy as I thought it would be. That goes for both the ridder using their controls and the caregiver using his.

I'm finding some aspects of steering this thing almost counterintuitive, especially when backing up when a slight change in direction is involved.
 

affected

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they do take practice and make sure you are always in turtle mode.
Like anything, with time you will both improve, but do be careful.
I remember Chris getting jammed in a doorway in the early days of learning his and they are heavy things. Luckily we were both laughing a lot and I managed to sort it as I nearly thought I was going to have to call someone to come and help.

Also be very careful on slopes, they can tip easily.
 

KarstBoy

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they do take practice and make sure you are always in turtle mode.
Like anything, with time you will both improve, but do be careful.
I remember Chris getting jammed in a doorway in the early days of learning his and they are heavy things. Luckily we were both laughing a lot and I managed to sort it as I nearly thought I was going to have to call someone to come and help.

Also be very careful on slopes, they can tip easily.
Weight - yes, hard to believe how heavy these things are. Ours is 415 pounds!!

My PALS first practice was last night in the garage on the very slowest setting. I've practiced two or three times on my own. Going to try and coax her to practice a lot more as we have and ALS event to attend (Walk to Defeat ALS) in another month or so. Don't want her to accidentally mow down a bunch of fellow walkers with the PWC... LOL!
 

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The techniques are quite different between a front-wheel drive and mid-wheel drive. On a front wheel drive, when turning a corner, you need to hug the corner on the side you are turning towards before starting the turn so there is room for the back caster wheels to swing around. To make that same turn in a mid wheel, you need to be further away from the corner. And, keep in mind the chair will always pivot around the drive wheels.

Depending on hand and arm strength, you might need to have the position of the controls changed and/or have a different type of joystick. For example, I am right handed, but had my control switch to the left hand after a while - my left hand was just in a better position to control the joystick. I also ended up getting a cradle type of joystick instead of the little knob that it came with originally. You will likely find that as strength and capabilities change, you may need to have the controls adjusted or changed. Adapting is the name of the game with ALS…

On my first journey in my new PWC, I was on an ADA hiking trail. I did get stuck between two boulders, and it took several people to get it unstuck! They were happy to help, though, and my friend and I still laugh about it.😊
 

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yes always practice in an area where you have plenty of room to move around, don't start by trying to navigate inside the house, especially with anything that can be damaged.
remind her that one does not simply jump in a car and start driving, but has to learn and practice until it becomes easy
 

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It is a good point that more "running room" than you might think is needed for turns. After all, when you turn a car, you are still going forward. The depth of the chair also takes getting used to when driving into confined spaces like vehicles or elevators.

The default joystick handle that comes with the chair, unless a different one is ordered, is often not the best. It's easy to pop them off and on, so don't be afraid to branch out. For PALS, depending on which muscles work, a U shaped handle, grooved mushroom, straight (like a stick) or rubber dome may work best.
 

swalker

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KarstBoy, can you let us know the make and model of your PALS' wheelchair? That would allow us to be more specific with suggestions.

My general thoughts are:

1. The way I grasp the joystick makes a huge difference. I can't do so with my fingers, but place the joystick between my thumb and the base of my index finger. The rest of my hand rests on the joystick module, which provides a stable base from which to make fine movements of the joystick.
2. I have experimented with several types of joystick knobs and have found the default one on the Permobil suits me well. But, there are many to choose from, so worth considering if a different joystick knob would make things easier.
3. I started out at the low speed setting until I gained experience and confidence.
4. I did most of my initial driving outside, where there were no walls to damage.
5. I now have put over 5,000 miles on my wheelchairs. Yet, I still occasionally damage the walls in our house. I think this is because sometimes my hand does not obey my brain. My hand sometimes just seems to be locked into a position and I cannot get it to release that position at will. This does not happen often, but it does happen.
6. The DME can adjust various parameters in the wheelchair's programming so that it behaves differently. I initially had the DME do this for me, but eventually purchased the equipment to do it myself.
7. All standard power wheelchairs suffer from caster jerk (rear wheel drive, mid wheel drive, and front wheel drive). The effects of caster jerk are greater in some designs than in others. Getting to know the wheelchair will allow you and your PALS to better anticipate the conditions under which caster jerk is likely to occur and how to handle it.
8. Your wheelchair likely has two drive wheels. When turning, the wheelchair will pivot about a point midway between these two drive wheels. Keeping that in mind can help with precision driving in tight quarters.
9. There is no substitute for practice!

Steve
 

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thanks for jumping in Steve! we had 2 different chairs, one with joystick and one with chin control. for Chris they were incredibly different, but they were a similar chair so for my attendant controls they were similar. but Steve knows so many types of chairs this is gold
 

KarstBoy

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The techniques are quite different between a front-wheel drive and mid-wheel drive. On a front wheel drive, when turning a corner, you need to hug the corner on the side you are turning towards before starting the turn so there is room for the back caster wheels to swing around. To make that same turn in a mid wheel, you need to be further away from the corner. And, keep in mind the chair will always pivot around the drive wheels.
Ours is a mid-wheel drive.

Depending on hand and arm strength, you might need to have the position of the controls changed and/or have a different type of joystick.
Because her right hand & arm are almost completely paralyzed we had to get the controls moved to the left side. Unfortunately she is right hand dominant.

For example, I am right handed, but had my control switch to the left hand after a while - my left hand was just in a better position to control the joystick. I also ended up getting a cradle type of joystick instead of the little knob that it came with originally. You will likely find that as strength and capabilities change, you may need to have the controls adjusted or changed. Adapting is the name of the game with ALS…
Ours came with a "spare" joystick that is differently shaped. What is on it now is sort of mushroom shaped (see pics in one of my posts below). The spare is lacks the mushroom end.
 
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KarstBoy

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yes always practice in an area where you have plenty of room to move around, don't start by trying to navigate inside the house, especially with anything that can be damaged.
remind her that one does not simply jump in a car and start driving, but has to learn and practice until it becomes easy

I talked to someone the other day whose in-law uses a PWC in the house. He said their house looked like a 5 year old with a bumper car lived there because the walls were so beat up.
 

KarstBoy

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The default joystick handle that comes with the chair, unless a different one is ordered, is often not the best. It's easy to pop them off and on, so don't be afraid to branch out. For PALS, depending on which muscles work, a U shaped handle, grooved mushroom, straight (like a stick) or rubber dome may work best.
If we continue to have "learning pains", I may switch from the mushroom type that is on the PWC to the straight one that came as a spare.
 

KarstBoy

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Here is a pic of our new chair w/ left hand controls. It's a Quantum Stretto Mid-Wheel drive:

temp.jpg


temp2.jpg
 

KarstBoy

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KarstBoy, can you let us know the make and model of your PALS' wheelchair? That would allow us to be more specific with suggestions.

See pics I posted of it in msg#12.


5. I now have put over 5,000 miles on my wheelchairs. Yet, I still occasionally damage the walls in our house.....

Have you or anyone else reading this ever considered some sort of protective shield on the walls in the vicinity of doorways? If so, could you tell us the product you used or provide a link?


7. All standard power wheelchairs suffer from caster jerk (rear wheel drive, mid wheel drive, and front wheel drive). The effects of caster jerk are greater in some designs than in others. Getting to know the wheelchair will allow you and your PALS to better anticipate the conditions under which caster jerk is likely to occur and how to handle it.

Unsure what this is but I suspect I'll know it when it happens.

BTW swalker, thanks a bunch for this list of info. Very helpful when presented this way.
 
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Tim B

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6. The DME can adjust various parameters in the wheelchair's programming so that it behaves differently.

This may cover what I'm about to say, but one of the adjustments on my wife's chair controlled how sensitive the joystick was, which proved quite useful. She had the same situation regarding hand dominance.
 

Jrzygrl

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Patience, a good sense of humor and a BIG container of spackle were the answer for us. 😁

It does get easier with practice, but accidents happen, especially at doorways. Do have your DME come out and adjust the joystick sensitivity to your wife's abilities.

If she goes to a head controller at some point, that's a whole new can of worms. 😔
 
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