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Power Chair Controllers

The powered wheelchair controller and its associated modules and components serve as the command center for use of the wheelchair and its functions. There are two types of commonly used controllers found on wheelchairs today, integral controllers and modular controllers. Integral controllers contain all of the necessary components in one housing with the joystick. Modular controllers have separate components for the various functions and wheelchair controlling elements. Both will include a joystick or some type of user interface as part of the system.

Some wheelchair models, especially the less sophisticated or less costly ones, allow no choice of controllers and come standard with an integral controller. The integral controller is used for basic mobility applications when no additional or special control features are anticipated. A user who can be expected to have little or no change in functional status over a long period of time, and whose powered wheelchair requires no special or sophisticated features, would be a good candidate for this type of control.

The technically higher end wheelchairs will sometimes offer a wide array of controller components and configurations. This is done to allow and accommodate the use of different types of controls and interfaces. It allows for mixing and matching of components to accommodate such function enhancers as sip and puff controls, specialty switches, powered seating systems, and even external devices such as environmental control units or communication devices. For example, the use of a sip and puff, head array system, or chin control, would be difficult or impossible to interface with most integral controller systems since these systems can not accommodate them. The electronics do not allow for interfacing or communicating with these devices.With a modular system the item can be added to the wheelchair as long as the appropriate interface module is also added or is already onboard.

The primary and the most important trade off on these systems is flexibility. If flexibility in functional control of the wheelchair features is required or anticipated then the modular system is the way to go. If not, the integral system should work well.

This is turning into a “Who's on second?” thing, therefore it's time for some pictures and some ups and downs.


  • Integral is less costly.
  • Integral is simpler and easier to deal with.
  • Modular is more flexible and allows greater latitude in choosing the types of interfaces and controls.
  • Devices such as environmental control units and communication systems can be operated through a modular system.
  • Various types of driving controls such as head array, sip & puff, touch pad, and chin controls can be added with a modular system.
  • With a modular system, if user function or ability changes the existing system can be modified or added to without replacing the entire wheelchair.


  • Integral is less flexible and cannot easily be expanded on.
  • Integral control is much larger.
  • Integral is to large to center or offset mount on the wheelchair.
  • Modular is more expensive.
  • Modular requires experience or training to setup when adding features.
  • Modular systems may require components and interfaces from multiple aftermarket sources to achieve the desired result.
  • Components for a modular system must be compatible with existing electronics.
  • Many compatibility issues may arise when setting up a complex integrated system.
  • Modular controllers increase the wheelchairs level of complexity.

Ziggi Landsman