Our DIY travel wheelchair in action

So, we thought we had come up with a pretty good solution for an all purpose travel wheelchair for our lovely nine year old daughter, Sparky, who has Cerebral Palsy. You may have read about how we put it together here;  We’ve received so many questions about the details of our solution, hopefully the following is useful to some and not too boring for others! Even if you are not a wheelchair user, there is a cool video and Sparky’s great interview.

How does the wheelchair actually work? Any problems with it?

Sparky’s off-road travel wheelchair is the sum of two parts; the Chariot wheeled base and the seat which fits inside the Chariot.

The Chariot

Well, Sparky’s Chariot drives very well. It can do bumpy, uneven, muddy, wet and slippery paths no worries. Here’s the video:

YouTube Preview Image

It also compacts very well. Here it is in the boot of our very little hire car,

on the back of a tuk tuk,

in the luggage rack of a Chinese train,

on a horse and cart,

and in a long-tail boat.


After 6 months, it needed a good wash down, and dried nicely in the sun. It has no major rips yet.


The Chariot issues

There are really only two downsides to Sparky’s Chariot. The break is stupid. It’s a foot break, and we can’t reach it with our foot, because there’s a bag in the way. We should have bought the next Chariot model up, which has a hand break. At the moment, we have to reach in with our hand and press the break, and it’s getting stiff when clogged up with dust and grit.

Also, its hot inside. We were only in Singapore two days when we borrowed a knife from a roti man and cut the tinted black plastic sides out. Woops! Sparkies fingers’ most relaxed position was now through the wheelspokes. We tried a bunch of ways of fixing this, and settled on using a sarong tied on Bear Grylls style; with rope tied around little stones wrapped in fabric. The sarong lets the breeze through nicely.

Apart from that, the Chariot is a winner!

Sparky’s seat?

We wanted it to be “a removable seat that can go in cars and planes and on the back of elephants.”

Well, it has been on an elephant.

Fantastic. Sparky also uses it to sit up at dining tables where ever possible. Here she is ordering the butter chicken.

Sparky sits comfortably in her seat in buses,

on trains,

and in tuk-tuks.


What about aeroplanes? No, this one doesn’t work. There are lots of rules about seats on aeroplanes.

So, what do you do on planes?

On planes we do something else. We check the seat in, it fits nicely inside the chariot carry bag. Here’s Chris packing it all away at check in. We do this in front of them as wheelchairs travel free, and they like to see that it is actually a wheelchair, not just a big sports bag.

We explored the CARES harness, but it was $100, and didn’t actually offer additional postural support. So Sparky sits with the standard lap belt for anti-thrust, then she wears her collar for head support. But we knew her torso would need additional postural support so I sewed up an elastic strap with velcro tabs, like this.

It goes nicely around the seat back like this. We just have to smile sweetly at the person behind, as  everytime they want to use their tray it needs adjusting.  We put a full size pillow behind her, it helps with the whole arrangement (and we always have more heads than pillows in hotels, so use it all the time).

Sparky alternates between sitting like this, and having a cuddle, or lying down if there is space. So far, its worked really well.

The seat issues

The seat is just too heavy at 5 kg. We want to rebuild one out of fibreglass.  Chris does all the lifting, as I struggle with the weight, particularly the arkwardness of getting in and out of cars. Sparky plus seat = 25kg.  I’d love to be strong enough to lift 25kg many times a day, but I’m just not. It’s on my list of things to do.

No, other issues or downsides. The seat is great, the covers are washable.  The whole thing looks cool!

Now, the most important thing we have saved to last.  Sparky’s verdict! Chris interviewed Sparky about her Chariot:

Tell us about your Chariot.

My Chariot is red and I like it when Dad ties a blue sarong around it. My Chariot moves fast and can cross rivers. My favourite is racing along jungle paths. I think my Chariot is cool and special.

What do you like about traveling?

I love meeting people who want to talk with me, ask questions and chat. I like listening to stories on trains and I like the sound of riding in small boats. My favorite adventure was cruising through Halong Bay on a large boat with Grandma.

What do you miss about home?

I miss my family, grandparents and cousins. I miss visiting Aunty Ally and Uncle Allen. I miss Grandma’s house. I miss church, friends and singing.

What is the most challenging thing about traveling?

I find it hard to play games with the others like soccer and scrabble. I can only play games like wrestling and piggy back riding. I also find it hard to play on the iPad.

We are really proud of Sparky, she’s a great little traveler, always keen to try new things and meet new people.


Finally, the Chariot can’t go everywhere. When the going gets too tough, Sparky rides on Chris’ back in her Ergo sling.  Which of course, is even more fun!






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17 Responses to Our DIY travel wheelchair in action

  1. Jen Tasker October 5, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    Sparky’s laugh in that video is just infectious! So wonderful.

  2. Travel with Bender (Erin) October 5, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Just wow.

  3. Gina @ Inky Ed! October 6, 2012 at 6:33 am #

    So we must have the model up from that as we do have the hand brake (needs adjusting as it isn’t really holding as well as it should LOL) and our plastic windows were a zip off to reveal an insect mesh. We are actually keen to buy the single version (we have the double) so we have something that fits in Grandparents cars and our small car isn’t too heavy for lifting. Currently we use the special tomato soft sitter modded with a headrest not unlike Sparky’s. We are tossing up whether to get the Special Tomato car seat which can also be used on aircraft for travelling – but it is heavier again than the soft sitter or Sparky’s current seat. We currently travel on planes with foam bolsters either side of Mac to give him the postural support (connected at the back so they stay together) and he needs padding behind him to make the seat depth shorter.
    We use the chariot at school a lot. The kids love it because they generally stuff one of themselves in beside Mac and then go fast around the playground. The have managed to shear one of the front wheels in half and ‘drifting and jumps’ have subsequently been banned. But an easy replacement nevertheless. So glad the chair is working so well for Sparky and you guys. And love that Sparky loves it too. Tell her Mac loves his too particularly when doing things “a little bit dangerous”.
    Gina @ Inky Ed! recently posted..i swear…My Profile

  4. Bron October 6, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Fantastic informative post! Sparky your interview was great, i loved learning more about you and your adventures xxx love bron

  5. Mary-Louise October 6, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Fabulous interview, Sparky! I miss you but I’m so thrilled that you are having so many wonderful adventures. Xxxx

  6. Laura October 7, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    That chair is AMAzing!! But Sparky, you ar even more amazing. I loved your interview. I can picture you using your PODD beautifully to share your ideas. Did dad do both the interviewing and scan your book or did someone else scan your PODD? Would love to do some travelling with you one day xxxx

  7. Granny October 8, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Sparky, I loved the photo of you riding on the elephant with your seat up top! Your ‘interview’ with Daddy was really interesting. I love you heaps, Granny xoxo

  8. Jennifer Pearce October 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    That video is the best!! Thank you for sharing. Loved hearing Sparky’s laugh.

  9. Next in line October 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm #


    You are an ingenious fun loving family:) I love these pictures.
    Next in line recently posted..Where to go…My Profile

  10. Yvette October 10, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    You guys are amazing parents. Seriously.

    Also, random, but what’s the song in the video? I quite liked it.
    Yvette recently posted..A Day Trip to DelftMy Profile

  11. Mary October 11, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    I adore everything about this post! The laughter, the amazing things Sparky and all of you get to experience. It is just so inspiring!
    Mary recently posted..Handling "Discipline" as an UnschoolerMy Profile

  12. Rose October 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    Amazing post! We have an eight year old son who has Down syndrome. When dreaming of more adventurous travel, I often worry about how challenging things might be for my son. You guys are an inspiration to all of us who want to travel with children with special needs. Your daughter’s joy and love of life is apparent and it is wonderful to see how creatively you have worked to have these experiences with your whole family.
    Rose recently posted..Lessons from my sonMy Profile

  13. kim at allconsuming October 15, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    Wow. Just wow.
    kim at allconsuming recently posted..Innocence: exterminatedMy Profile

  14. Lisa Wood October 17, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    Love how many places the wheelchair has been to! And how incredible was sparky laughter? Gorgeous! Not sure that many people could easily lift 25kilos all day long – Chris must be very strong. Its so good to see your family travelling so much!
    Lisa Wood recently posted..How David Painted Our Motorhome Roof EasilyMy Profile

  15. Sparcs September 12, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    You HAVE to get the pull along harness for hiking… Keeps the little front wheels off the ground and a smoother ride. Or you could have the harness and cut bamboo when you get there…

    We had a double I had thought of doing this to. We had the squiggle chair at the time too…

    Maybe carbon fibre or polycarbonate for the nextchair? If you can fibreglass you can carbon fibre. Polycarbonate is heated to bend it and you can get some very strong and flexible types.


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