Different disabilities present different symptoms and challenges, which in turn might affect your choice of a mobility scooter. Although nobody knows their disability and how it affects day to day life better than the person who has it, we will endeavour to outline the typical aspects of a range of conditions and suggest things to consider when buying disability scooters or powered wheelchairs. Some disabilities are unchanging, e.g. an amputation, some are progressive e.g. arthritis. Many may vary over time and the person may have good days and bad. Different people with the same condition may experience extremely different symptoms. For this reason, this article can only offer an overview and in every case, you should take advantage of the opportunity to try out several different vehicles, including test driving them, and get expert advice before you buy. In general, if your condition is progressive, try to think if your needs will change significantly in the next few years. If you have good days and bad days, try to take into account your mobility needs on a bad day (that is assuming you would still use the vehicle on a bad day).
Who is legally allowed to use mobility scooters
Only persons who have difficulty walking due to a disability, illness or injury (either temporary or permanent) may use a mobility scooter. There is also a minimum age for class 3 scooters mobility scooters of 14 years, there is no age restriction for class 2 scooters and powered wheelchairs. There are a few exceptions. An able-bodied person may use disability scooters when demonstrating a vehicle, instructing a new user on the correct operation, for a delivery or collection and for testing as part of a service or repair.
Arthritis refers to a variety of joint disorders. The most common being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Commonly the condition causes joint pain, stiffness and swelling. The severity depends on how far the disability has progressed. For those with relatively mild symptoms, most scooters will be suitable, although it is important to make sure that switches and levers are easy to use and larger movements like steering do not cause undue discomfort. If the condition is more severe, for example seriously limiting hand, arm and upper body movement it may be better to consider a powered wheelchair rather than a disability scooter. These are operated using a joystick control which requires minimal movement.
Multiple sclerosis affects the brain and nervous system’s ability to transmit signals. As such symptoms and severity can vary enormously and the condition may get progressively worse or may involve recovery and relapses. As such it is difficult to give a simple answer to which scooter is best. If the symptoms include mild loss of muscle control, then making sure the scooter controls are easy to operate will be important. In the most severe cases, a powered wheelchair may be a better option for reasons of comfort and ease of operation.
This bone-weakening condition will, more than almost any other, dictate that comfort and a smooth ride are uppermost in your thoughts. Look for pneumatic tyres, an effective full suspension and a comfortable well-padded seat as number one priorities. You may benefit from a swivelling seat, with side supports. In many cases, the condition involves little or no pain unless a fracture occurs, so avoiding jolts and jarring will be a priority.
Quadriplegia and Paraplegia
A spinal injury, depending on where on the spine it occurs, can lead to paralysis of the legs or both legs and arms, as well as affecting many functions of the torso. The principal concerns in choosing a disability scooter will be whether the user can sit safely on the seat and whether they are able to operate the controls. In many cases, a powered wheelchair is likely to be the preferred option, particularly since these are usually more comfortable when sitting for prolonged periods.
Amputation and missing limbs
Obviously, the nature of the condition is going to be critical in your choice of disability scooter or powered wheelchair. A double amputee may be likely to spend a considerable amount of time seated and may require the more comfortable and, indeed, supportive seat found on a powered wheelchair. A user with a single amputation, or below knee amputation, and prosthetic limb/s may well be fine with a scooter assuming they have normal upper body movement. Although arm amputation may not in itself affect mobility, should this be an issue there are scooters which are designed to be operated with one hand and powered wheelchairs can be adapted for use without arms.
A comfortable seat and a smooth ride are likely to be a priority if you suffer from back pain. Look for good padding, pneumatic tyres and/or a really good suspension system. Don’t be content to just sit in the seat but make sure you can have a test drive before buying. Also, check for a seat which can turn to make it easier to get on and off without twisting your back and that you can easily turn the steering without undue strain or pain.
This refers to a group of conditions which usually begin in early childhood. There is no age restriction for powered wheelchairs and class 2 mobility scooters, but you need to be 14 to use a class 3 scooter. Often symptoms include erratic movement and lack of limb control. If using a scooter, the user will probably want one which is difficult to unbalance, with four wheels and a low centre of gravity. It may be helpful to have a seat with arm-rests or raised sides and a seatbelt. In more severe cases a powered wheelchair will be the preferred option.
A range of conditions including cerebral palsy (above), Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, CJD and more, typically causing numbness and tingling, muscle weakness and pain, and involuntary movements. As with cerebral palsy above, the severity and nature of the specific condition will likely inform the choice of disability scooter. Providing the user can sit safely on the scooter, and operate the controls, the issue may revolve around how easy it is to operate with weak muscles. If shaking or lack of balance is an issue then a seat with side supports, a seatbelt and a good level of stability will be needed. In the most severe cases, a powered wheelchair will be the obvious choice.