Published 4/05, Copyright 2005,

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If you've ever attempted to transfer to a tall bed, or struggled to remove laundry from the washer, or fought to reach a toaster on a kitchen counter, all from a powerchair, you know that everyday tasks aren't at one height.  For many powerchair users, a few extra inches of adjustable seat height can take their abilities to the next level, and from light- to high-end rehab powerchairs, elevating power seat lifts are an increasingly-popular tool toward achieving greater heights of independence.

The most fundamental part of a power seat lift is a motorized push-pull mechanism, called an actuator - press the seat lift toggle switch, and the actuator goes into motion, either pushing straight up on the seat, or at an angle if there's a complex geometry built into the system.  Actuators come in a variety of sizes and quality, but, in general, manufacturers do a prudent job to matching the right actuator to the appropriate application.

Power seat lifts, like the powerchairs they serve, are available in three configurations - single-post, scissor, and cantilever - all of which have distinct applications.  While some seat lifts offer 5" of lift on a compact pedestal, others offer 13" on a large frame, and understanding how to best fit your needs to the most appropriate system is the key to optimal performance and safety.

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Single-post seat lifts are by far the most common, found in applications ranging from light-rehab powerchairs with medium-back seats, all the way up to high-end rehab powerchairs with tilt-and-reclines mounted atop.  With the actuator, itself, serving as the seating pedestal, sing-post lifts are the most economical seat lift solution, offering from 5" to 8" of lift, and you'll find them serving with especially great success as standard on some light-rehab chairs.  

Despite practical and economic benefits, single-post lifts are not for everyone, namely high-end users needing maximum overall powerchair performance.  By nature, single-post lifts mount in the center of the powerchair, most often bolting within the battery compartment, so battery capacity is usually limited to U1s on compact powerchairs, and NF22s on full-size powerchairs - for high-end users, this reduced battery range can be an issue.  Additionally, when large seating systems and high weight capacities are used, some single-post systems demonstrate a swaying "flagpole" characteristic when fully elevated that some may find disconcerting, so higher-end rehab users may wish to carefully consider single-post lifts in comparison to scissor and cantilever lifts.

Scissor lifts feature a four-corner mounting system, both on the powerchair base and seating, optimizing side-to-side, front-to-back stability.  As a result of such stability, scissor lifts travel as high as 13".  What's more, because scissor lifts mount atop the base, not within it, full-size batteries may be used.  For users needing tilt and recline in conjunction with elevation, a scissor lift is a meaningful choice.

Like scissor lifts, cantilever lifts are an atop-the-base mounting system, allowing the use of full-size batteries.  Further, because cantilever lifts mount at each side of the seat, they offer stability at heights up to 12".  Where cantilever lifts differ from single-post and scissor lifts, however, is that they provide forward travel of up to 4.5" as they elevate, meaning that they move upward and forward.  This forward travel is especially useful when you need to elevate up and into an area - for example, as pictured above, pulling up to a mailbox, and moving closer to it as you elevate.

Funding is difficult for seat lifts.  While we can assert that environmental access is vital to a healthy, independent life, most insurers do not view a seat lift as a medical necessity.  However, seat lift systems are standard on selected powerchairs, allowing indirect coverage on some models, and for those paying out-of-pocket - or, with liberal private insurance - high-end seat lifts can be purchased as an upgrade for between $2,500 and $5,500 based on the style and manufacturer.

Whether you're striving to reach the chalkboard as a teacher, or access the butcher-block counter as a chef, or simply wish to live more independently around the home, power elevating seat lifts can foster new heights of independence.  Seat lifts vary in height, style, and price; however, if you line up the right system at a funded price, a seat lift is certain to take your abilities to higher levels.

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