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Whoever tagged the cliché saying, “Bigger is better,” obviously didn't understand the diverse needs of high-end power wheelchair users, where some today are finding that when it comes to power wheelchair bases, “smaller is smarter....”

Indeed, for three decades now, most high-end rehab products – read that, power wheelchairs with such power positioning features as tilt and recline seating – have been among the physically largest power bases available, including a wide, long stance and large drive wheels. And, they've worked well, offering the stability, power, and features needed to carry high-end power positioning seating systems. However, while full-size rehab-oriented power bases work well for many, they haven't fit all – namely those consumers living and working in very tight environmental spaces, such as tiny apartments, needing an ultra-compact power wheelchair without sacrificing full power positioning seating.

Fortunately, there are several newer ultra-compact rehab-oriented power bases on the market that one might aptly coin as “mini-rehab” – that is, smaller power bases that readily accept high-end rehab seating systems – and they offer terrific overall mobility for those in need of tight-quarters handling.

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A hallmark of “mini-rehab” power bases is that they are among the smallest of the small, without sacrificing rehab seating capabilities and the stability that power positioning requires. With overall widths from 23” to 24” (that's 2” to 3” narrower than most traditional rehab power bases), mini-rehab power bases fit within extremely narrow spaces, including through the tightest of doorways. What's more, with 10” drive wheels and U1 batteries, mini-rehab power bases offer among the lowest standard seat-to-floor heights, in the 17” range with full power seating, easing environmental access to desks and tables, as well as offering optimal positioning for those who drive a van from their power wheelchairs.  

Beyond literal environmental access, there's merit to sizing a power base to the user's physical stature, as well. A 130lb. user, for example, can feel swallowed by a full size power base – especially when one has, say, a 16”-wide seat on a 26”-wide power base – so mini-rehab power bases can better fit smaller adults than a full-size power base, creating appropriately scaled mobility.

Of course, when it comes to mini-rehab power bases, maneuverability is a key advantage over full-size rehab power bases. When you tuck a mini-rehab base under a power positioning seating system, it truly feels like you're maneuvering within the space of the seat, a less bulky feeling than operating a full-size power wheelchair. Consumers note strikingly easier handling in bathrooms, vans, and other very confined spaces, while still feeling completely stable and secure.

And, when it comes to stability and security, the question sometimes asked is, How stable is a “mini-rehab” power base underneath, say, a tilt seat? After all, it looks like a small power base under a big, moving seat.

The answer is, they're entirely stable. The fact is, today's 6-wheel power base technology lends itself to power positioning seating applications, with front and rear casters planted firmly on the ground, creating an impressively stable platform, even on small power bases. What's more, because mini-rehab power bases have an inherently low center-of-gravity, they're even totally stable at the extremes of power positioning seating, such as when outfitted with a 10” elevating seat.

Now, all of this isn't to say that mini-rehab bases are for everyone – they're not. Mini-rehab bases have limited performance – from 4 mph top speeds to small U1 batteries to limited outdoor terrain handling – so they're not for very aggressive users or those with very complex mobility needs, where the size, power, and capacity of a full-size power base is a must.

Nevertheless, when it comes to mobility products, one size does not fit all, and for those living in the tightest quarters and not pursuing aggressive outdoor terrain, a mini-rehab power base can prove exceptionally liberating, easily maneuvering in the smallest apartments and the tightest of vans.  

And, for those who have long thought that in the world of high-end rehab power wheelchairs that bigger is better, another trite saying is now entering the field: It's not how big it is that counts; rather, it's how you use it.

Published 7/09, Copyright 2009, WheelchairJunkie.com