Wheelchair Buying Guide

Wheelchairs come in several types, depending on the needs of the user. There are a number of factors to consider:

What is the wheelchair for?

Different conditions will mean different requirements. Users who have or are at risk for poor circulation may need elevating leg rests. People who need supplemental oxygen should have a convenient place to carry the tank.

How big is the user?

This is a question of width as well as weight. A chair that is too wide can be as uncomfortable as one that is too narrow – people in too-wide chairs may lean or slump over. There are wide chairs available, 20 to 24 inches as opposed to 16 to 20 and with a weight capacity of 350 pounds or more rather than the standard 300 pounds. Bariatric wheelchairs are wider still and can support 700 pounds. The footrests also need to be appropriately positioned, and adjustable or removable footrests may be best. The height of the seat also depends on the height of the user. Seats for users under 5 feet tall are available and are less than 19 inches above the ground. Standard seat height is about 20 inches, and higher chairs with seats above 21 inches off the ground can be used by taller people.

Does the chair need to be stowed often?

Folding wheelchairs, as the name suggests, can be folded up easily to be put in a car trunk. Rigid wheelchairs have welded frames and are sturdier and more lightweight. Rigid wheelchairs can still be stowed, by removing the wheels and folding down the back, but it’s a more involved process and they require more space, meaning these chairs may be more useful for people who seldom need to travel by car.

Who will be operating the chair?

If the user will have an attendant, it’s not as necessary for the wheels to be easy for the user to reach and push, and weight is less of a concern. Someone who may have difficulty pushing the chair, for example due to upper-body weakness, but wants to remain independent may be able to use an electric wheelchair.

What sort of armrests will the user need?

Wheelchair armrests are available fixed or can be moved up and out of the way when needed. Some chairs come with removable arms, which make getting into and out of the chair easier if needed. Arms also come in a variety of lengths, from full-length armrests which support the entire arm to desk-length armrests which, as the name implies, have shorter armrests allowing the user to sit at a desk or table. Alternatively, there are removable trays available that can be attached to the chair when they are needed.

What kind of cushions are needed?

Wheelchairs come with a 1½-inch fabric or vinyl seat as standard equipment. Users who are in the chair more than two hours a day, or just want more comfortable options, will need some kind of cushion. To make you chair comfortable, or if you sit in your wheelchair more then 2 hours daily, we recommend you invest in a cushion. Foam or gel cushions provide padding and comfort. Contoured positioning cushions help maintain good posture and prevent the user from slouching. For the user who will be in the chair for long periods, air cushions help prevent bedsores.

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