ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

A Guide to Choosing a Wheelchair: Learn Your Options

Updated on January 28, 2013
An unknown artist's rendition of Confucius in a wheelchair. Artwork from 1680. Reproduced in D.E. Mungello's "The Curious Land."
An unknown artist's rendition of Confucius in a wheelchair. Artwork from 1680. Reproduced in D.E. Mungello's "The Curious Land."

People have been using wheelchairs for thousands of years. Over time, the options have evolved from simple wooden chairs to include lightweight collapsible wheelchairs, motorized wheelchairs, wheelchairs for basketball and many other options. This article can help people choose the best wheelchairs for their unique needs and preferences.

What to Consider

Here are some criteria for you, your occupational therapist and your doctor to consider when choosing a wheelchair.

  • Your goals: Which wheelchair can best help you meet your goals? Wheelchairs today can support communication, sports participation and other goals in addition to everyday mobility.
  • Your health: A variety of health issues come into play when buying a wheelchair. For example, you might want accommodations to be made for your posture, your body size, seizures or bladder management.
  • Your environment: Sometimes people choose wheelchairs and then modify their living spaces accordingly. It’s easier to choose a wheelchair that readily fits into your existing environment. Measure your hallways and doorways before your shop.
  • Your budget: You’ll probably need to pay a portion of the wheelchair's cost.
  • Cars and airplane travel: Power wheelchairs tend to be most convenient for people who have vans. It can be difficult to move a heavy chair in and out of a vehicle. People who often fly might prefer lightweight manual or battery-powered wheelchairs that can be easily collapsed.
  • Caregiving: Power wheelchairs and push-assist wheelchairs can help make a caregiver’s job easier.

Basic Types of Wheelchairs

The following sections describe manual, push-assist and power wheelchairs.

Manual Wheelchairs

Manual wheelchairs are appropriate for many individuals with good upper-body strength and balance. Strong shoulders and arms are needed to propel the rear wheels. Eight major types of manual wheelchairs are available:

  • Standard wheelchairs have very limited adjustability and aren’t tailored to individuals. Hospitals often use standard wheelchairs as loaners. These are low-end wheelchairs and aren't recommended for private owners.

  • Standard hemi-wheelchairs are for people who want a relatively low seat height (17"- 18"). These chairs are chosen by people with short stature and by those who wish to propel the chair with their feet.
  • Lightweight wheelchairs are often chosen for light use around the home. They generally aren’t comfortable enough for more than two hours of daily use.
  • High strength lightweight wheelchairs are for people who use wheelchairs in the home for more than two hours per day. These are sturdier than standard lightweight wheelchairs. They’re also available in a greater variety of seat widths, depths and heights.
  • Ultralightweight wheelchairs are typically chosen by people with paraplegia and quadriplegia. These let people improve balance by adjusting the rear axle.
  • Heavy duty wheelchairs are for those who have severe spasticity or weigh more than 250 pounds.
  • Extra heavy duty wheelchairs are for people weighing more than 300 pounds.
  • Tilt-in-space wheelchairs let people tilt the chair frame by 45 degrees or more.

Manual Push-Assist Wheelchairs

Push-assist wheelchairs are for people who want manual chairs but need assistance moving them. Two types of push-assist wheelchairs are available:

  1. Battery powered push-assist: A battery with a sensor is attached to the rear wheels. When the user pushes, the battery kicks in.
  2. Two gear push-assist: The standard rear wheels are replaced with those that operate on two gears. The user can shift between gears to adjust the chair for different terrains.

Power Wheelchairs

Power Wheelchairs

Electric or power wheelchairs are generally used by individuals with limited upper body strength. These chairs are powered by batteries and have front, center and rear drive options. Each drive has different handling characteristics. Center drives have the tightest turning radiuses and are often preferred by people who primarily use their chairs indoors. Rear drives tend to be preferred for mainly outdoor use. Front drives are for those who spend equal amounts of time moving indoors and outside.

Power wheelchairs have several control types. Joysticks are most common. Some customized control devices include chin controls, head controls and mouthsticks. The different control types can accomplish the following:

  1. Tilt the seat frame to improve balance and change pressure points
  2. Recline the seat back for rest, pressure relief or to adjust a catheter
  3. Elevate the seat to improve reach or enable better eye contact
  4. Lift the user from a seated to a standing position to improve circulation, respiration and other functions

Some additional options include power leg rests, high speed motors, enhanced suspension and flat-free tires.

Special Interest Wheelchairs

Today's wheelchair users have many exciting customizable options. For example, you can purchase a wheelchair that helps you maximize your tennis game or speed along an outdoor trail. Top End is a leading wheelchair brand in this area.

To conclude, a wheelchair is obviously a major purchase. Before buying a new wheelchair, be sure to talk with any friends or relatives with wheelchairs and read plenty of wheelchair reviews. You can start with the wheelchair review video below. "RueToYou" shares lots of helpful information. At first her eyes are cut off the screen, but then she moves. Be patient; it's worth it :-).

YouTube Video: How to Choose a Wheelchair


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Nancy Owens profile image

      Nancy Owens 

      6 years ago from USA

      What valuable information, SantaCruze. Especially helpful for people who suddenly find themselves caring for a loved one who needs help to be mobile. Voted Up and useful.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)