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Wheelchair accessories are as varied and can be as unique as their riders. They can range from cushions and backs to add-ons like cup holders and bags. The most important questions to ask when determining which accessories are right for the rider is how much time will be spent in the wheelchair, and for what purpose. Casual riders of a standard wheelchair, for instance, may only need a small seat cushion to level out the sling-style seat. Those who spend most of their time in one, on the other hand, may need more customized options.
The most important wheelchair accessories are the seat belt and brakes. Every wheelchair rider should utilize some sort of seat belt, whether it is a standard strap or cushioned lap belt. Shoulder harnesses are also an option for those riders with poor upper trunk control to avoid tipping or falling out. Brakes are a necessity for any wheelchair and brake extensions can be added to aid the rider to control the brake independently.
Every wheelchair rider should use footrests. Calf pads are optional. If the feet are left to hang, pressure can build up behind the knees and cause circulation problems or nerve irritation. The footrest should always swing away and be easily removed to allow for safe transfers in and out of the wheelchair. Adjustable height arm rests are also a common wheelchair accessory. Many disabled sports competitors do not use them, but the average user should have at least an L-bar on either side to avoid falling out. Padded armrests are the standard choice and can range from a shortened desk size to full length. Armrests should be removable, especially if the rider has a limited ability to get in and out of the wheelchair.
Cushions and back supports come in a variety of shapes and styles, depending on the needs of the rider. These supports are used to maintain proper sitting, comfort and/or prevention of skin breakdown. Styles range from foam, gel or air inserts under the cover. Cushions can be wedged to avoid slipping out of position, or cut out under the buttocks to decrease the chances of too much pressure being put on the coccyx or tail bone. Backs can be curved or have winged sides to help maintain proper positioning of the spine.
Wheelchair accessories go beyond the needs of the rider and allow for the individuality to show through. Accessories range from cup holders to clip-on ashtrays, from umbrella holders to fishing pole holders, from rim covers to decorative padded armrest covers. There are special bags and totes that can hook onto the back of the wheelchair or underneath the seat. There are also a variety of trays ranging from half trays that can flip up and out of the way to full trays that slid on and off.
The best way to get the wheelchair accessories you need is to seek professional advice from a physical or occupational therapist and a wheelchair specialist.