Equipment Series – Part 2: Evaluating and comparing special needs strollers and wheelchairs

Posted Tuesday August 28, 2012 by Melissa

Tadpole - strollers

Be sure to first read Part 1 of this series:

Equipment Series – Part 1: Before, during, and after the Equipment Evaluation

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It is tempting to jump right into all the websites and catalogs of special needs strollers and chairs and look for what you (think you) need, but that can often lead to falling in love with something that either doesn’t meet all of your child’s needs or won’t be approved. Take a step back first, grab your notepad and remind yourself of the notes you first made of your child’s needs, the situations you will use the chair, and the purposes for different features. Only then should you start looking.

Tadpole - strollersHere are some great sites to start your search: many brands – Tadpole Adaptive, Adaptive Mall, eSpecial NeedsSpinLife, 1800Wheelchair, Flaghouse; specific brands: Ottobock, Thomashilfen, Ormesa, and Convaid.

Keep track of the strollers and chairs you consider, the pros and cons, what doesn’t work, what is missing, etc. You should bring that list to your evaluation because the evaluator may think something would work and it’s helpful to have your notes there and you can refer to them instead of having to think on the fly about whether something would work or not.

When evaluating and comparing which type of stroller/wheelchair might be appropriate for your child, consider the following:

  1. How long could you use it (insurance generally only pays every 3-5 years)? Some chairs can be adjusted as your child grows to expand to many inches and pounds larger than they are now.
  2. How many activities could your child use it with (eating, sleeping, changing diaper, pull up to table at restaurant, etc.)?
  3. How heavy is to maneuver?
  4. How well does it fold down? Will it fit in your vehicle?
  5. How sturdy and well built are the frame and fabrics? How easy to clean and durable are the fabrics?
  6. How comfortable will it be for your child for short and longer periods of time?
  7. If your child needs to be contained, how effective will the chair and its harness be at that?
  8. What else is important to you in a stroller/chair?

Even families whose children have similar challenges might come to different conclusions about the right stroller or chair for their child. It can be a very individual decision and depends on much of the information above and that from the Part 1 of this series.

Ormesa Bug

Case’s Ormesa New Bug, size 3-4

Our experience. I can only give an example as it applies to our situation. We ended up deciding on the Ormesa New Bug, size 3-4 for Case when he was about 3 years old. We sacrificed some of the above qualities in favor of others.

Our search was limited in some sense because at the same time, we were searching for a feeding option and that feeding option had to have a harness, foot holds, and stability to keep Case from kicking it over. The Bug is a seat that fits onto a stroller base as well as a high/low base for use at the table or an activity. Case was overweight for almost any high chair and he HAD to be strapped in at the table to keep from falling, getting up every 2 seconds, etc. So, that limited the options to the Bug and the Bingo (which I had understand has been discontinued).

The Bug is certainly heavy (the base and the chair are each 20-25 pounds) and the seat does not fold down, but together they fit into the back of our Honda Odyssey. It is super comfortable and Case slept in it all the time. It both reclines and tilts so that he can lay almost horizontal which was a big deal since when we still went to the hospital for infusions, Case never got a bed and thus he had to sleep, eat, and get his diaper changed in his chair. That was another thing that allowed us to argue for a chair that had those options.

We had to order a different harness later because Case figured out 5-point harnesses, so the new 6-point harness actually gives him pressure that he likes and keeps him fairly contained and safe. He eats in it (we also got a hard tray and we bought a cheap soft tray for $30 that we actually use more) and we changed his diaper in it when necessary.

So the final decision really all depends on how you weigh those factors above and any others that you can think of. Some parents have reflected and are unhappy that they didn’t get a stroller that tilted and/or reclined because sleeping in it can become a necessity.

Know that with strollers, you really do get what you pay for in terms of quality. Comparing a $3000 stroller to a $500 stroller showed substantial differences in:

  • frame strength,
  • upholstery quality, ease of cleaning, comfort, and durability,
  • a seat that is sized (expands with tools) as the child grows or one that remains one size
  • tilting/reclining (with hydraulics versus a loosened strap)

That is not to say that a $500 stroller is a bad choice, especially if you are paying out of pocket. Some can be a good value for the money. But if you’re able to really assess the needs of your child and it is covered by insurance or if you have the funds, it is likely that you’ll need one that costs more.

Continue to Equipment Series – Part 3: Making the best arguments for insurance coverage
Copyright © 2012, Melissa Hogan. All rights reserved.

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