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When it comes to power seating - tilt, recline, or elevation - there are not only the widely-known considerations toward functions and funding, but also the lesser-known considerations of how one wishes to operate the power functions, via an external switch or directly through the joystick? While the final result is the same - that is, the seat moves - the difference between an external switch and through-the-joystick operation can affect convenience, accessibility, aesthetics, and cost, making it a decision not to be overlooked in selecting a new power seating system.

Toggle Switches
A high-amperage toggle switch is a common, simple means of operating a single power seating function, such as tilt. A toggle switch mounts in a variety of locations on a powerchair - though, most commonly, on the armrest - and serves as a switch that operates the power seat function when pushed and pulled. Because the toggle switch is all but a direct route to the power seating function, it doesn't require an additional, costly "actuator module" as an upgrade to the powerchair's electronics, making it the most cost-effective solution for most single-function power seating systems. (Note: Multiple power seating functions can also run through a four-way toggle switch, multiple toggle switches, push buttons, or specialty switches; however, these configurations typically require an additional actuator module.)

Through-The-Joystick
Through-the-joystick operation allows the powerchair's joystick to not only drive the powerchair, but also operate single or multiple power seating functions. By selecting a mode button on the joystick housing, the joystick enters the power seating mode, allowing the joystick to work as the toggle that operates single or multiple power seating functions. Most commonly, through-the-joystick operation of power seating functions requires an actuator module at additional cost. (However, some newer electronics include through-the-joystick capabilities in the base electronics, so and additional module is not needed.)

Controls And Convenience
Beyond the technical aspects of toggle and through-the-joystick power seating controls, usability is a consideration, as well. A toggle switch can be mounted almost anywhere on a powerchair for exceptionally versatile access. Also, because a high-amperage toggle is independent of the powerchair's main electronics, the power seating function remains operable even when the powerchair is turned off. And, for some with very limited dexterity, a toggle can prove easier operation than buttons on a joystick. In these ways, with a toggle switch as "independent," it proves a practical control solution for many with single-function power seating functions.

To the plus side of through-the-joystick operation, it's an exceptionally seamless, integrated control, where there aren't additional switches and wires on the exterior of the powerchair. Additionally, through-the-joystick operation is the most practical means toward controlling multiple functions, where an interfacing module is required, and allows for future expansion of power seating functions in the future, if needed.

Questions Of Reliability
As for reliability, it's a tough call as to which method - toggle or through-the-joystick - is more durable. On a single power seating function, a high-amperage toggle is, for the most part, independent of the powerchair's electronics, so if the joystick isn't working, for example, the power seating is still operable. However, toggle switches can fail, under a lot of wear by frequent use, and joysticks are historically among the most durable components on a powerchair, so it's truly debatable as to which is more reliable? Nevertheless, to the positive, both toggle and through-the-joystick applications ultimately prove impressively reliable.

In practical terms, if one is selecting multiple power seating options, through-the-joystick operation will provide the most seamless, integrated operation. On the other hand, a high-amperage toggle switch can allow simple operation of a single power seating function, avoiding additional, costly electronics in some cases. In this way, it's not a question of which is a better method of controlling power seating, but which method best meets the user's needs.

Published 11/07, Copyright 2007, WheelchairJunkie.com