Wheelchairs enable people with mobility impairment to participate in the community and be independent.
They greatly enhance the quality of life for people who face difficulty walking.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 70 million people require wheelchairs all around the world.
There is a lot of variety when it comes to wheelchairs. When you go out to pick out a wheelchair, either for yourself or for a loved one, you will come across innumerable options to choose from.
Hence, it’s better to do some research and read up on them before buying one.
Here are the most common types of wheelchairs available on the market:
If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of the wheelchair types, we got you covered:
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- 1 Manual Wheelchairs
- 2 Self Propelled Wheelchair
- 3 Attendant Propelled Wheelchairs
- 4 Power Wheelchairs
- 5 Mobility Scooters
- 6 Sports Wheelchairs
- 7 Beach Wheelchairs
- 8 Reclining/Tilt or Positioning Wheelchairs
- 9 Pediatric Chairs
- 10 Shower Commode Wheelchairs
- 11 Standing Wheelchairs
- 12 Handcycles
- 13 All-Terrain Wheelchairs
- 14 Different Categories of Wheelchairs
- 15 What is a standard wheelchair?
- 16 Conclusion
These are just the standard wheelchairs that are pushed around with the user’s or an attendant’s muscle strength.
There is a wide range of manual wheelchairs based on the material used or the weight of the chair. The two most common types of manual wheelchairs are self-propelled, and attendant propelled wheelchairs.
Here is a detailed breakdown of the two for a better understanding.
Self Propelled Wheelchair
As the name implies, this design allows the user to move around the wheelchair without assistance from others.
It comes with push rims attached to the wheels, which help to push around the chair a bit easier.
As far as the design of a self-propelled wheelchair goes, it’s pretty basic. It comes with a back cushion, four wheels (2 small front wheels and two large side wheels, push rims attached to the side wheels, and footrests.
This wheelchair type is a good option because it offers more independence than the attendant propelled kind, but it also requires a lot of muscle strength.
If you have the upper body strength to push the wheelchair around with yourself in it, then it’s an excellent low budget option.
A self-propelled wheelchair can have two types.
- Rigid frame: You cannot fold up the wheelchair if it has a rigid structure. It takes up more space, and hence, can’t be carried in small vehicles.
- Folding frame: As the name suggests, wheelchairs with foldable frames are not so sturdy and can be squeezed to join its two sides. They can be adjusted into small vehicles so they can be carried around without much hassle.
Attendant Propelled Wheelchairs
These wheelchairs come with handles at the back which allow the attendant to move the chair around. They come with small wheels, unlike the self-propelled design.
Brakes are also attached to the metal structure of the wheelchair, above the back wheels. The attendant can easily reach them with their foot and stop the wheelchair and park it.
This gives the attendant better control over the mobility of the chair.
Power wheelchairs, or electric wheelchairs, are battery operated.
They are moved by the power that’s supplied from the chargeable batteries that are embedded in the wheelchair.
Power wheelchairs use joysticks on the armrest to give the user control over the maneuverability of the machine.
They often offer added features too that allow the user to adjust the seat/chair according to their personal preferences.
Mobility scooters are like scooters with seats held up by metal rods in the middle of the vehicle. Mobile scooters, or power-operated/electric bikes, come with 2-5 wheels.
But the most stable ones are those that come with five wheels.
They even feature lights and use keys to start. Mobility scooters have modular designs so they can come apart and be put together as per the need, so you can easily transport them.
There is a wide variety of options for mobility scooters available on the market.
These wheelchairs are engineered to allow excellent mobility to players with disabilities. They are also a great option for people who like to stay active.
Sports wheelchairs are customizable. They are used for racing, basketball, rugby, and tennis. The origin of sports wheelchairs dates back to the Second World War.
When paralyzed veterans or war amputees would return from the war, they would try and modify the existing models of wheelchairs to come up with a model that would allow them to stay more active.
That’s how high-performance wheelchairs came into being. However, they have improved a lot with time.
Sand can cause all other kinds of wheelchairs to wobble and tumble down, except for beach wheelchairs.
These are made with big balloon tires that allow them to move around in the sand without sinking quickly. Moreover, they will enable the user to experience the waves too.
You can enjoy an eventful day at the beach with beach wheelchairs.
Reclining/Tilt or Positioning Wheelchairs
This type of wheelchairs allows the attendant to tilt back their seat according to the user’s comfort.
They enable the user to change positions, which is good for their health. A person’s position plays a vital role in the smooth processing of bodily functions.
Functions such as respiration, digestion, peristalsis, and circulation require the body to change position every once in a while to take place properly.
If you remain seated for a long time, your lower body can go numb, that’s because the blood in your body is not reaching the lower part in the needed quantity.
Hence, you either start to lose sensation or feel strange sensations in your legs when you don’t move for longer durations.
Reclining chairs provide the opportunity to wheelers to change position, lie down, or put their feet up whenever they want to. It’s good for their physiological health.
Pediatric wheelchairs are for tiny humans.They are the mini version of adult wheelchairs.
They come with a lot of adjusting options for the seat width, armrest, leg height rest, backrest height, which accommodates the child’s growth without causing them inconvenience.
Pediatric wheelchairs come in colorful designs that are fun and playful. Therefore, they appeal to kids more than other wheelchairs that are designed for adults.
Shower Commode Wheelchairs
This is an excellent choice for when an entirely or partially immobile person has to shower or use the restroom.
You can’t take it out because it comes with a commode hole in the middle of the seat, but for in-home movement, it’s very easy and convenient to use.
You can easily wheel it into the shower, and you don’t need to switch to the commode if you feel the need to relieve yourself.
It’s made with waterproof material, so you can quickly dry off the excess water on it after using it.
Standing wheelchairs are one of the most expensive models of wheelchairs. And by expensive, we mean exorbitantly costly.
You need to have a massive pile of money to buy a standing wheelchair. And if you can buy one, then you definitely should.
It allows you to stand up whenever you wish to. You feel more mobile in a standing wheelchair than in a regular wheelchair.
However, there are some things to consider. The shift from standing to sitting or sitting to standing is not seamless. You need to adjust a few things to make the movement happen.
There are a bunch of straps and pads that need to be modified when changing positions. Powered models can be cumbersome and large, which makes them hard to carry around if they are not being used.
Handcycles are like regular bikes that are peddled by hands instead of legs.
They are like bicycles and tricycles that you steer by using your hands. They come with a powered steerable wheel in the front and two rear wheels at the back.
They are fun to ride, and you don’t even have to be an athlete or a fitness freak to use them. You can get hand cycles quickly and peddle around the city all you want.
They come in different shapes and sizes. You get to choose them from a vast lot of options.
These wheelchairs open up the option for people who have trouble walking and jogging to go outdoors freely.
They have evolved with time. They have come a long way from a standard large-wheeled chair to power-operated wheelchairs that allow users to go out in the snow, dirt, rocks, or sand.
They now come with various features such as heavy-duty motors and batteries, tank tracks, heavy-duty or reinforced frames, and balloon tires and enhanced suspension systems that make them the best option for adventure-loving wheelers.
Different Categories of Wheelchairs
We know we have already discussed all the available types of wheelchairs, but it’s essential to learn about the five categories of wheelchairs too. It helps organize the myriad of wheelchairs better.
Not only that, but knowing about the classes of you can easily convey what you are looking for to the retailer/manufacturer.
There are five categories of wheelchairs. And as you move up in the groups, the wheelchairs get more advance and offer more features.
The most basic wheelchair design falls in this category.
If you need a wheelchair for some standard mobility capabilities, then you should get a type-1 wheelchair. They are perfect for short term rentals.
This category is the one that most frequently approached. It offers lightweight wheelchairs with a bunch of added features that the user can adjust.
The wheelchairs in this category offer a variety of modular designs.
They come with clean and clear modular lines and configurability options, which help users adjust the wheelchair according to their preference.
Most models in this category are foldable; therefore, they can be put in small spaces and vehicles.
This category is for people who lead an active life or wish to lead a busy life even with their mobility impediment.
Most designs in this category offer adjustments to accommodate the personal needs of the user. They are made with high-quality material and are lightweight.
The adjustment capabilities of type-4 wheelchairs are so that they provide maximum comfort to the user.
The tilt-in-space wheelchairs fall in the type-5 category of wheelchairs. They offer a vast range of positioning options to provide maximum comfort to the user.
These are mostly used if the degree of disability is severe.
Now let’s move on to the definition of a basic or standard wheelchair so that you can fully understand the categories of wheelchairs.
What is a standard wheelchair?
A standard wheelchair is a wheelchair that fulfills the following three requirements.
It must be designed using the materials available for commercial use
It must be constructed in a way that allows it to bear the roughness of daily use
It must also have standardized dimensions and sizes mentioned in writing in a guidance document or instruction manual provided by the manufacturer.
The following features are supposed to be featured in a standard wheelchair
15” to 24” seat width, 16” to 20” seat depth, and 16” to 18” back height for standard upright weight, lightweight or high strength lightweight wheelchairs
Reclining wheelchairs are supposed to have 15” to 24” seat width, 16” to 20” seat depth, and up to 34” back height
In simple terms, a standard wheelchair is the one that offers assistance to those who face difficulty in walking due to illness or injury.
A typical wheelchair has a length of 42”, an overall height of 36”, seat heights around 19.5”, and a width of 25”.
Wheelchairs come in multiples shapes and sizes. Some may even offer added features that others do not like power wheelchairs.
Power/electric wheelchairs are battery-operated. Hence they can move around by just pushing a level.
However, a manual wheelchair requires physical strength to propel by the user or is pushed around by a caregiver.
When manual wheelchairs and power wheelchairs are contested against each other, power wheelchairs are considered the natural winner.
But that’s not always the case. When purchasing a wheelchair, a lot of factors play a role. How flexible is the budget?
How much strength and physical stamina does the user have?
These questions need to be answered before coming to the conclusion of which one is better.
You can’t give the verdict on which type of wheelchair is better just based on the apparent ease. You must consider all the necessary factors before choosing the right option for yourself or your loved one.
Here is a detailed list of the pros and cons of both types.
- It’s easy to transport.
- It can be easily lifted to take up the stairs while the user remains seated in it.
- It doesn’t have a lot of moving parts; hence, it doesn’t require too much maintenance.
- It doesn’t rely on charging batteries.
- Some models can navigate through tight spaces easily.
- It requires physical strength and balance to move around.
- It can create cause muscle strain and shoulder wear and tear with constant use.
- It’s much harder to carry around for long distances or up steep slopes.
- The user can’t keep pushing it for long durations.
- The user can’t keep pushing it for long durations.
- It’s an excellent option for long journeys.
- It features different drive trains that offer a personal preference for different terrain covers (grass, asphalt, etc.)
- It offers tilting and reclining options to allow relief to the muscles.
- It offers more comfortable independence to the user.
- It’s quite heavy which makes its transportation much harder.
- It’s high maintenance as it features many parts.
- Its batteries require regular charging.
- It’s much more expensive than a manual wheelchair.
- Understanding its controls can be tricky.
How to choose
Considering the physical strain that a manual wheelchair causes on the user or the caregiver, people automatically take the power wheelchair as the better option.
And that is why people save up to buy the pricier option. But the expense doesn’t end there. It’s pretty high maintenance and susceptible to malfunctioning without warning.
However, a manual wheelchair wouldn’t do that. It may get a little rusty with time if not used on a regular basis. But that can be sorted by lubricating the chains on the wheels.
If you have the budget to not only spend on purchasing a power wheelchair but also bear its maintenance costs, then you should buy it.
Otherwise, a manual wheelchair can work for you, too, if you are up for some rigorous workout.
Choosing the right kind of wheelchair is essential as it helps a person stay mobile.
The style, size, and need matters when picking out a wheelchair, but the most important thing to consider when buying a wheelchair is comfort for the user.
If the user isn’t comfortable in a particular model, then buying that piece is pointless. A person spends most of their time in a wheelchair, and if it’s making them uneasy, it shouldn’t be purchased.
Make sure to give it a trial run or a test drive like you would before buying a car. Let the user get comfortable and accustomed with the mobility aid before buying it.