Clinically Speaking

Push Wheelchairs: When Is a Stroller Not a Stroller?

When parents or caregivers are confronted with the fact that their child will need a mobility aid for an extended period of time, they are also confronted with a myriad of choices, questions and concerns. Most of these questions evolve around one main question: “How can I make sure that the clinical and therapeutic needs of my child are met, while we can still go places easily?”

Most therapists today understand very well that mobility aids should meet their therapeutic goals for seating & positioning and the well-being of the child, while still meeting the caregiver’s needs of convenience, ease of use and transportability. The chair’s look and feel are also extremely important to both the family and therapist. It is important for the child to blend in as much as possible without an “institutional-looking wheelchair” in order to easily socialize with everyone in their environment.

Over 30 years ago, pediatric mobility aids were hard to come by. Most were scaled-down versions of adult wheelchairs that were very heavy, non-folding and looked very medical. As it was very inconvenient to easily go places with these products, parents started to use commercial strollers to get around. A need in the market was discovered, and Convaid was a pioneer of the “therapeutic stroller.”

Commercial Strollers vs. Push Wheelchairs

“Commercial” strollers are designed for babies and toddlers and are quickly outgrown. They are designed to carry the child in either a seated or reclined position for short periods of time. These strollers have not been designed to meet any medical or therapeutic need; offer sling seating with no postural support and no growth capabilities; and generally have maximum load ratings from 30 to 50 lbs. The testing requirements for commercial strollers are minimal and usually involve general protective safety testing: Will small parts break off? Does the stroller contain choking hazards? Have the brakes been tested?

Modern “push” wheelchairs have come a long way in the last few decades and nowadays combine the convenience, aesthetics, features and light weight of commercial strollers with the therapeutic seating & positioning components, individual adaptability, and durability of a medical wheelchair. These wheelchairs have been built with resilience and growth in mind and offer many options for customization to address the clinical needs of each child. When the wheelchair has been crash tested, the child is able to be transported in the chair while in a bus or van.

Insurance coverage of push wheelchairs has also evolved over the past few decades. In most states, push wheelchairs are eligible for funding as a primary and/or secondary wheelchair. Since push wheelchairs provide therapeutic seating options, they can be used as a child’s primary mobility device or as a secondary option for a more convenient form of transportation. Parents can be encouraged to check with their insurance carriers for more detailed information.

A Teaching Tool for Caregivers

Despite all the benefits a push wheelchair can offer, accepting it into the family routine can be emotionally very difficult for parents. They see other families’ strollers and want the same for their child.

The temptation can be especially strong for parents unfamiliar with how versatile, convenient and attractive today’s push wheelchairs are! They’re designed with both kids and caregivers in mind…a truth that can be easier to convey by comparing them head to head with commercial counterparts. Use this chart to show caregivers that push wheelchairs can offer families the best of both worlds.

  Stroller Push Wheelchair
Usage Short periods of time All-day Seating
Transportation Over short distances Longer distances & daily activities
Seating Sling seating Solid/firm seating surfaces
Load Rate Low load rates (30-50 lbs. max.) High load rates (up to approx. 250 lbs.)
Growth Capabilities None Growth with the user (Up to 5 years of growth capabilities built in)
Size Options One size fits all Different sizes
Accessories Non-clinical accessories Clinical & non-clinical accessories
Adjustability None Highly adjustable to fit the postural needs of each individual child
Seating & Positioning Components None Many seating & positioning components to address each individual needs
Foldable Yes, fits in (almost every) car Yes, fits in (almost every) car
Does the chair meet clinical & therapeutic needs of child? No Yes
Can it be used to transport a child? No Yes, Child can be transported in the chair in vans or buses (if crash-tested/WC19)
Durability Tested? Not very durable -- mostly minimal testing for short usage and low impacts Very durable -- extensive testing and passes high-impact terrains (Check with individual manufacturers for testing results)
Aesthetics Modern designs Modern, contemporary design. Blends in.
Color Options Many Many
Weight Lightweight Lightweight compared to traditional, non-foldable & other foldable push wheelchairs

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Elizabeth Harris is the marketing communications manager at Convaid.

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