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Pressure relief cushions
Unless your chair has been provided with specialist seating, you will probably need to think about seat cushions and perhaps back supports in order to make it more comfortable, and improve stability. Pressure damage is also a risk for people who spend a long time sitting in one position.
The science of pressure care is developing all the time, and the latest innovation is three-dimensional knitted spacer fabric, shown left, which in addition to distributing the user’s weight evenly, also provides a micro-climate for the skin, helping to keep it cool and dry. This protects against skin breakdown resulting in pressure damage. It has been calculated that wet skin has only four percent of the strength and resilience of dry skin. The high-tech 3-D knitted fabric cushion is patented by Airospring.
There are several cushions available that include special foam and/or cells filled with air or liquid which distribute pressure more evenly.
Shown at the top of the page is a technologically advanced cushion which significantly reduces the shear forces through the use of thin, liquid-filled cells which are incorporated directly in the cover, preventing skin irritation and pressure sores.
A firm crescent-shaped foam cushion (right) counteracts the sag of folding wheelchair seats.
Contoured posture cushions are useful wheelchair accessories that can help to improve posture and stability.
The universal cushion shown on the left may be used by anyone who remains seated for long periods of time, and is particularly helpful for users with curvatures or low muscle tone. The cushion can be instantly re-shaped on demand so that it can relieve pressure on vulnerable areas, or modelled so that it provides support for the body as necessary.
There is a range of cushions and backrests available from AAT, all employing the same vacuum technology, which allows you to shape the cushion and then fix its position by removing the air using a suction pump.
Arm supports can be useful where people need intensive arm rehabilitation: if they have cerebral palsy, for example, or have suffered a stroke or head injury. For the rehab therapy to be most effective, it is beneficial for the stabilised arm to remain in the corrected position after a rehabilitation session. AAT’s Velcro armrest shown on the right has a universal fitting which allows it to be used with various types of seats and wheelchairs.
Using vacuum technology, the armrest is adjustable to the shape of an individual’s hand and wrist. As rehabilitation progresses, the shape can be adjusted accordingly. This type of support can also make it possible to control a powered wheelchair, for individuals who would not otherwise be able to do so.
A different type of arm support, here on the right, for wheelchair users with arm weakness. The Neater arm support can make a big contribution to independence, allowing you to reach a hand to your face, for eating, drinking, putting on make-up, etc, and also to operate a keyboard, mobile phone, or undertake other manual activities. There are both powered and manual versions available, to suit different degrees of muscle strength. The powered supports require very little movement from the user in order to operate. Apart from the functional benefits of being able to manage daily tasks unaided, arm supports can also keep joints moving for greater flexibility and avoidance of contractures, maintain strength and help to reduce the development of postural deformities.
There is now a good range of wheelchair bags available, at various prices and different styles. You can have panniers that fit over the arms of the wheelchair or scooter, bags that go on the back of the seat, or even under-seat storage. There are models to suit the vast majority of chairs, and they aren’t all black, as this bright yellow one from Able2 proves, although most of them seem to be!
If you need to carry crutches, sticks or oxygen tanks, you’ll find customised luggage to accommodate these items.
Wheelchair trays and tables
A lap tray is a convenient portable aid to working, eating, playing games or pursuing hobbies. One with a beanbag cushion arrangement on the underside brings a number of advantages: it will sit securely across your legs without moving; protect you from the sometimes considerable heat generated by a laptop; prevent pressure damage to your skin. It is also handy to have in those situations where you need a firm surface to write on, and those provided are not accessible in a chair.
You can also get trays that fit to the arms of the wheelchair, rather than resting on your lap.
There are various tablet holders available, which keep the device securely in position, and clamp to the armrest of your chair. As tablets are now used for all sorts of assistive purposes, including communication for people who have lost their speech, but are able to use a touchscreen for input, it is important to be able to hold the device just where it needs to be.
With new apps coming along all the time, including sound amplifiers, captioning of phone calls for deaf and hearing-impaired users, even volunteer eyes for blind people, the use of tablets is likely to increase, as well as the need to keep it securely clamped in just the right position.
This is one of those accessories that always seems to intrigue other people – a USB charger that connects with the charging port of a powerchair or scooter, and lets you charge up your phone, tablet or MP3 player, while you’re on the move.
The Power Buddy is a “plug and play” system that you can set up quickly and easily, to make sure that your power-hungry smartphone never lets you down.
And we can’t discuss wheelchair accessories without mentioning cupholders – no self-respecting car would be caught without several places to park a drink these days, and they are now widely available as an add-on for your wheelchair.
NKS RADAR key
The National Key Scheme (NKS) provides access to disabled toilets via a universal key.
If you need an accessible loo, anywhere around Britain, a RADAR key is your essential travel companion, so while not strictly a wheelchair accessory, it is certainly one for every wheelchair user!
A genuine RADAR key can be recognised because it is stamped on the head with “RADAR N.K.S”. You can buy keys with a larger, easy-turn head, and now also with a bright red bow-shaped head, which has Braille marking as well, for those with visual impairment.
There are approximately 9000 accessible public toilets in the NKS RADAR scheme, in town centres, shopping malls, parks, stations, airports, visitor attractions, cafés and bars. They are kept locked to protect them from misuse and vandalism. A RADAR key will open any disabled toilet which is part of the scheme.