Top 5 Things NOT To Do When Ordering a Wheelchair or Mobility Device
By Maggie Johnsson, MPT, ATP, and Robin Folland, PTA, ATP
If you rely on a wheelchair or scooter for mobility, you know how important it is to choose and purchase the right device. Your mobility device is the key to your independence; it helps you perform everyday tasks and can be a lifeline for independence. Choosing the wrong device can cost you thousands of dollars and can impact your health, comfort, safety and independence.
It’s important to understand the most common mistakes made when selecting a mobility device so that you can avoid the potential physical and financial consequences.
Mistake #1: Purchase a mobility device without consulting a certified therapist.
Most insurers want you to use your wheelchair or mobility device for at least five years. That means that it’s important you purchase the device that is right for you, both now and in the future. Certified Assistive Technology Professionals (ATPs) understand your current and future needs and functional ability, and are knowledgeable about the latest technology available on the market.
To determine your needs, certified therapists will provide a thorough evaluation to analyze your daily activities and to evaluate your physical measurements, range of motion, strength, coordination, sensation, reflexes, skin integrity, balance, transfers and ambulation. This evaluation helps therapists understand your requirements and helps them determine the device that is best suited for you.
Some therapists will also conduct a pressure mapping test (pictured). This technology can help therapists assess your pressure patterns, so they can develop, adjust and implement a seating system that will help you maintain healthy skin and avoid painful pressure sores. Pressure mapping can increase your comfort and safety, and pressure mapping by a therapist is required by some insurers.
Mistake #2: Use the device without proper instruction, training and fitting.
Assistive technology  can be complex. If you are not properly trained and educated on how to use your wheelchair or mobility device you may not be able to use it to its maximum ability. You may inflict costly damage to the device or you may injure yourself. By scheduling an educational training session with a therapist, you can learn how to use your device safely while receiving the best custom fit available to assure that it meets your needs.
Mistake #3: Purchase a mobility device through mail order.
Would you purchase a car without going for a test drive? When purchasing a wheelchair or scooter online or over the phone it is difficult to determine how it will look and function. It is always best to try the mobility device before you purchase it. This trial will help determine if the device is right for you. A comprehensive assistive technology center will have a large selection of wheelchairs, other mobility devices and accessories from which to choose and trial.
Often, devices ordered online or over the phone arrive in several pieces, which you are expected to put together. Not only can this be a difficult and complicated task, but it may also be physically impossible depending on your condition. In addition, if you have a problem with the device later, mail order companies can be difficult to work with. Clinicians at assistive technology centers can help you make any future adjustments and can aid in ordering replacement parts.
Mistake #4: Try to navigate insurance by yourself.
Insurance can be confusing. Qualifications vary and if not met, can cost you thousands of dollars. Before purchasing a mobility device, consult with a representative at an assistive technology center, who will walk you through the process and work with you, your durable medical equipment provider and your doctor to fill out the proper paperwork. Center representatives will make sure you meet all the requirements necessary for reimbursement, so you don’t end up with a surprise bill at the end of the process. Often this process includes a home assessment to help determine if you can use the device at home, school and work.
Assistive technology centers also have established relationships with durable medical equipment providers and insurance companies, and their highly skilled staff can help you negotiate issues if they arise. A durable medical equipment provider submits your request to the insurance company and procures your equipment. This helps you avoid any headaches, while allowing someone knowledgeable to handle the details.
Some insurers, including the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, require that you purchase a mobility device from an approved medical assistive technology center. This guarantees insurers that the correct device is selected for you.
Mistake #5: Purchase a used device.
It may be tempting to save money by purchasing a wheelchair at a yard sale, on a list serve or on eBay®. However, these devices are specially designed for the previous owner, not for you. By using a mobility device not properly fitted for you, you may experience a number of problems including skin breakdown and postural issues, such as scoliosis. In addition, you may require additional features that did not come with the device. If adjustments or parts are needed, insurance will not cover their costs because the device was not originally purchased for you.
These adjustments may eliminate any cost savings you realized when purchasing a used device, and the adjustments may end up costing you more in the long run. Buying used also comes with the increased risk of device breakdown. To ensure the best outcomes, purchase a new mobility device that is reliable and specialized for you.
By purchasing your wheelchair or mobility device through a trusted assistive technology center you can avoid the mistakes outlined above and be assured to find the best device that will meet your needs and improve your quality of life.
About the authors
Maggie Johnsson, MPT, ATP, and Robin Folland, PTA, ATP, are certified Assistive Technology Professionals at the R. J. Foundation Mobility Center in the Harry C. Trexler Center for Assistive Technology  located at Good Shepherd’s Health & Technology Center, Allentown, Pennsylvania. The Harry C. Trexler Center for Assistive Technology is approved by Medicare, Medical Assistance and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. It has one of the largest groups of Assistive Technology Professionals in Pennsylvania. For more information, please call 610-776-3517 or visit www.GoodShepherdRehab.org .
Wheelchair Seating and Mobility Program
Harry C. Trexler Center for Assistive Technology
Good Shepherd Health & Technology Center
Good Shepherd Plaza
850 South 5th St.
Allentown, PA 18103