This guide will help you make an informed decision when choosing a wheelchair, either for yourself or for somebody in your care.
The first thing to ascertain, is the mobile capacity of the wheelchair user. Will they be able to get in and out of the wheelchair unassisted? Are they able to use a self-propelled wheelchair? Do they have reduced posture control that requires a supportive seat? Having a solid understanding of your, or the wheelchair user’s need will enable you to filter the wide range of options into a select few wheelchairs that are ideal for you.
The two types of wheelchair
Assistant-propelled, or transit wheelchairs, are the traditional push-along style of wheelchair that require a carer/assistant to propel them. They have smaller rear wheels which make the wheelchair more agile, ideal for an assistant pushing the wheelchair where there is limited space or tight manoeuvres.
Self-propelled wheelchairs have large rear wheels with handle rims right around the circumference so that you can propel the wheelchair without the need of assistance. They require you to have good upper-body strength and particularly strong arms. Most self-propelled wheelchairs have rear pushing handles so that the wheelchair can be pushed by an assistant where required.
Assistant vs. Self
Below is a chart of both advantages and disadvantages for self-propelled and assistant-propelled wheelchairs. Identify the key advantages that benefit you most and which disadvantages will have the most effect on your buying decision.
Features and Considerations
Assistant-propelled/transit wheelchairs have relatively small rear wheels, whereas self-propelled wheelchairs have much larger rear wheels. A larger wheel requires less effort to be propelled by the occupant, hence they are used on self-propel wheelchairs with a metal push rim. Rear wheel tyres will be either air (pneumatic) or solid rubber. Air-filled tyres are more comfortable for the wheelchair users as they better absorb shock, however there is the risk of the tyres puncturing. Solid rubber tyres are more practical, not requiring any maintenance and will not puncture. They do give a harder ride though, and the wheelchair user is likely to feel more bumps. Front wheels are virtually always solid rubber tyres and swivel a full 360ᴼ.
Anti-tipper prongs are two metal prongs that protrude from the back of the wheelchair frame, just above the floor, to prevent the chair from tipping back on itself. Steep inclines or excessive pressure exerted on the pushing handles or push rims can sometimes cause a wheelchair to tip.
Anti-tipper prongs arrest tipping by coming into contact with the ground almost as immediately as it starts to tip and push the chair back to an upright position. The metal prongs are sometimes fitted with small castors.
Footplates are positioned in front of the chair for the occupant to rest their feet on. They are usually individual plates, one for each foot, and can be swung outwards to ease access into and out of the wheelchair.
Armrests on a wheelchair ensure the chair is supportive and they remove the risk of falling from the side of the wheelchair. Most armrests are padded for comfort. Whilst being essential for support whilst seated, they can become an obstacle when the user is transferred from the chair, especially for higher dependency users who use a transfer board or require hoisting. Most wheelchairs are fitted with armrests that drop down or can be removed completely, ensuring there is unrestricted access for transfers.
Fitted either to the rear wheels and are operated by foot, or are fitted to the handles and are operated by hand.
Most wheelchairs have a firm but flexible material as a seat and backrest, that folds up/out to collapse the wheelchair. This allows the chair to be stored in small spaces such as the boot of a car.
When purchasing a self-propelled wheelchair, check if the large rear wheels can be detached. This removes a large amount of the impracticality of storing these type of wheelchairs in tight spaces.
Mobility Home recommends…
Our preferred supplier for wheelchairs is Ross Care. With several stores, a dedicated maintenance department and experience servicing NHS contracts, Ross Care are a great place to buy a wheelchair from. Visit the Ross Care website.