Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Power Wheelchair Care--Tips for Power W/C Users

Used with permission from my friend and colleague, Antoinette Verdone.  As always, I give my thanks to her for letting me share this informative newsletter.

Power Wheelchair Care
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Inspired Solutions

Assistive Technology Newsletter from Antoinette Verdone, MSBME, ATP

Picture of Antoinette Verdone
Power Wheelchair Care
Tips for Power Wheelchair Users

Picture of Power Wheelchair
Power wheelchairs are complicated devices. Using a power wheelchair can be overwhelming at first. Here are some tips to keep your chair in good condition and working for you!

Picture of road with the word slow written on the road.

If you are a new power wheelchair user, take your time to familiarize yourself with the chair and how it operates. A power wheelchair has very powerful motors, and thus the power of the chair should be respected. Make sure you always drive the chair on smooth, even surfaces. Any bump over ½” can cause the chair to lose control easily. Also be aware of inclines as the chair could tip over if you do not navigate inclines carefully. When going down steep inclines, you may find tilting the seat back (if you have that feature) slightly will make the ride more comfortable. Be aware that some chairs may “lock out” if tilted too far. Power wheelchair users should be particularly careful with cross slopes - slopes from left to right when facing the slope - as power wheelchairs are not designed to navigate much cross slope. If it looks steep to the eye - be aware!

Picture of diamond shaped safety sign.

When transferring in/out of the wheelchair, turn the power off.

Footplates and armrests are not designed to be weight-bearing surfaces and should not be used to take your weight when transferring. This can cause damage to the chair and possibly severely injure you.

Power wheelchair joysticks are “proportional.” This means that the farther you push the joystick the faster it will go. Once you push the joystick all the way, it will not go any faster – do not put extra force on the joystick. Most chairs have some sort of speed control to limit the top speed that the chair will go. The speed and other features of the chair can be programmed to suit your needs. Contact your wheelchair provider for assistance in adjusting the speed.

When the chair is stopped, the breaks automatically come on. The breaks will prevent the wheels from turning, even when the power is off. You cannot manually push a power wheelchair unless you release the motors. Releasing the motors should only be done in the case of an emergency. A power wheelchair is very heavy, and you can quickly lose control of the chair if you are pushing it manually. If you look at the bottom of the chair, you will see release levers. Some chairs have one on each side, and some only have one. If you are not sure how to disengage the motors, call your wheelchair provider.

Picture of cartoon of a battery.

As you use the chair, you will have a regular charging routine. The chair should be charged when the battery indicator goes below 50% charge. If you leave the chair unused and not charging for an extended period of time, it will completely lose its charge. If this happens, the only option is to replace the batteries, which can be costly. (When in doubt, connect the chair to the charger!)
· You cannot over charge the chair. The charger will turn itself on and off as long as it is plugged in.
· The typical life expectancy of power wheelchair batteries is about three years. This is very dependent on how you use the chair. Some people will be able to get much longer use, others much shorter. If your batteries are not lasting for one day of typical use, call your wheelchair provider.


A power wheelchair should always be kept in a climate-controlled environment. Extreme heat or cold will damage the batteries and the electronics of the chair. A power wheelchair should not be stored out of doors or in a garage (or other non-climate controlled space.)

picture of water faucet crossed out

A power wheelchair has electronics and batteries that can malfunction if they get wet. Avoid crossing puddles in the chair that may splash water onto the chair. Wrap a clear plastic bag over the joystick and controller if you must drive in light rain. DO NOT OPERATE A POWER WHEELCHAIR IN HEAVY RAIN.

picture of man with a wrench
Listen to the chair and become familiar with the sounds that it makes. If you notice that the chair is making any unusual noises, contact your wheelchair provider.

On a regular basis keep the chair clean by wiping surfaces with a damp towel, using mild detergent when needed. Do not immerse any part of the chair in water. Special attention should be made to keep wheels and the bottom portion of the chair clean to avoid debris from damaging the wheels or motors.

Do regular checks to make sure all wires and connections are securely connected and free of fraying. Notify your wheelchair provider if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

picture of light bulb

I would love to hear your ideas on this topic, please go to my blog - http://improveability.wordpress.com/ to leave your comments and/or suggestions about power wheelchair care.

Have a question about power wheelchairs or other assistive technology click here to send me your questions.


  1. Hi Alisa! I would like to remind the readers not to handle any exposed wiring outside of its casing. Always seek the help of a wheelchair repairman. One more thing, check the programming of your power wheelchair. It has computer software installed that may have malfunctioned or suffered from a glitch. When this happens, it can alter the specifications of your chair’s performance.

    Lakendra Wiltse

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