What to Consider When Renting a Wheelchair

Grandma get on the wheelchair and the grandchild
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At some point, you may need to rent a wheelchair for a day or for several days. ​Many different models, including power chairs and scooters, are available. Renting a wheelchair takes some advance planning, and it may be more of a challenge when you are traveling out of town. Knowing more about your options and the rental process can help.

Types of Wheelchairs

There are a number of types of wheelchairs that you can rent. The biggest factor that differentiates one from another is whether or not it is motorized.

Deciding whether to use a motorized vs. a non-motorized wheelchair is a decision you need to discuss with your doctor or physical therapist. If you need a wheelchair rental at home for a period of time, your medical team may want you to use one that requires you to use as much of your own muscle power as possible so that you will not develop muscle atrophy, which is thinning of the muscles that result from lack of use. This may especially be the case if you are recovering from an injury or surgery and your condition is expected to improve.

Some wheelchairs are equipped with stronger back support, which helps with problems such as scoliosis. You may need such a wheelchair if you have weakness in your back muscles.

If you have a medical condition characterized by episodic weakness, such as multiple sclerosis or chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), your medical team will tailor your wheelchair recommendation each time you have a severe episode —and the decision about which type of wheelchair you should use will depend on how much motor weakness you are experiencing.

Where to Find a Wheelchair Rental

If you are renting a wheelchair because you or your loved one has a medical condition, you can ask your health insurance provider for recommendations about which vendors to use. Often, health insurance providers have a contract with a supplier and may only pay for wheelchair rentals from their preferred vendors.

If you are being discharged from the hospital, your hospital case manager can help direct you to a vendor that will be approved by your health insurance plan, and may even be able to arrange for you to have a wheelchair when you leave the hospital.

If you do not have insurance or a wheelchair is not covered by your plan, look into renting a wheelchair from a local medical supply or drugstore.

Long-Term vs. Short-Term Rentals

You may need a rental for a day, a week, or a longer period of time. Agreements often vary from vendor to vendor, but there are some differences between long-term and short-term rentals:

  • Cost: Long-term rentals may be cheaper to rent per day than short-term rentals. Even if your insurance is covering the cost of your wheelchair rental, there may be a limitation in your coverage or you may be required to pay a percentage of the cost.
  • Contracts: Long-term rentals usually require the renter to sign a contract. A day-long rental usually doesn't require a contract, but might require a security deposit in addition to the rental fee.
  • Selection: There is usually a wider variety of options to choose from when getting a long-term wheelchair rental than a short-term one. In addition, a place that offers long-term rentals is more likely to have other equipment available, like ramps or power lifts, if needed.

Before You Rent

Before you take your wheelchair rental, take some time to evaluate the features. There are a few things you should check before you take your rental:

  • Damage: Inspect the wheelchair for any problems or damage. Report any issues to the vendor immediately or else you risk losing your security deposit due to someone else's damage.
  • Comfort and function: If possible, take the wheelchair out for a test drive. If it runs on batteries, make sure they're fully charged. You don't want to get all the way to your destination only to find out the battery is dead or the seat is uncomfortable.
  • Convenience: You might want a wheelchair that is collapsible or easily taken apart for transportation.
  • Exchangeability: You might also want to ask the vendor if they will allow you to exchange your rental for a different model without an additional charge. Many vendors will offer to drop off a different model if the one you chose doesn't suit you.

Renting vs. Buying

There can be some benefits to renting a wheelchair, rather than owning one. But, you may want to consider some of the pros and cons of renting vs. buying.

  • Cost: Before you rent a wheelchair, power chair, or scooter, be aware of the total cost and security deposit. In many cases, it's less expensive to buy a wheelchair instead of renting one. Sometimes the cost of a rental for a week or more is the same as the wheelchair's price tag.
  • Familiarity: It can take some time to adjust to using a new wheelchair. Once you have, you may want to keep that same one for the duration.
  • Adaptability: If you have a medical condition that may change, eventually requiring you to use a different type of wheelchair, you may be better off renting, especially for occasional use. You might need a different type of wheelchair next time.

Finding a Wheelchair Rental When You Travel

When you travel, you can use resources, such as airports, travel agents, and hotels, to help you arrange for a wheelchair. However, if you are not flying to your destination and if you are staying with friends or family, you may have to spend more time looking for local resources and making arrangements yourself.

  • Air travel: Often, when traveling in an airport, you can rent or reserve a wheelchair by arranging in advance. You can call the airport guest services, or you may be able to reserve one through your airline. You can usually also ask for an escort to help you get around. There may be a fee, but often these services are available at minimal or no cost to people who have verification of a disability.
  • Hotel: if you are staying at a hotel, resort, spa, or vacation rental home, you may be able to have a wheelchair waiting for you when you check in if you ask in advance.
  • Travel agent: A travel agent can arrange to have your wheelchair or mobility aid waiting at your destination when you arrive. Your travel agent may be able to find a wider variety of choices than what would be available at the hotel or airport.
  • Tourist destination: Many tourist destinations, such as museums and amusement parks, have wheelchairs available for guests to use during the visit. You can call customer service in advance to request a rental.
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