Different Wheelchair Types

If you are ready for a wheelchair, either a replacement or a first one, what should you look for?

There are many wheelchair types, but they come in three different groups:

  • Manual wheelchairs
  • Electric wheelchairs
  • Buggies/scooters

Manual Wheelchairs.

Manual wheelchairs come in a variety of types.

Self-propelled wheelchairs

Self-propelled wheelchairs are the most common type of manual wheelchair, and the one most people recognise. They are not usually assisted by anything such as a battery or an auto propelling system. This type of wheelchair is ideal for someone who has reasonable control over their arms.

These chairs have large rear wheels with a push rim which allow the user to grip and propel the wheelchair on their own. Most of these are folding, which allows for more accessible storage when not in use and when travelling. Many also have removable back wheels which makes it possible to detach and place in a smaller boot (trunk).

You can also find ultra-lightweight chairs weighing 25 to 30 pounds and lightweight chairs weighing less than 40 pounds. These are good for travelling with your chair and folding it to place in a vehicle. They still have the large back wheel so the person can propel themselves and handles so they can be pushed. Usually, they are upholstered in nylon, and the lightest chairs do not always have a cushioned seat.

Transport Wheelchairs

These chairs are designed to be pushed by others rather than the user propelling themselves. They have small back wheels which the user cannot grip. You often see them in hospitals. They usually fold for storage. Standard transport wheelchairs can accommodate users up to 300 pounds, and heavy-duty transport chairs can be used for people who weigh more.

Hemi Height Wheelchairs

If the disabled person can use his feet to propel himself more successfully than his upper limbs, a hemi height chair has a lower seat to allow for this. Some wheelchairs are made on a dual axle so they can be raised to a standard height and lowered to a hemi height.

Heavy-Duty and Bariatric Manual Wheelchairs

Some people may need these heavy-duty wheelchairs due to their size or weight. These wheelchairs have a more substantial and sturdier frame and more generous seats. Models for larger patients can support up to 700 pounds and occasionally recline to distribute the user’s weight.

Tilt and Recliner Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs that tilt can be altered by a carer to a position that is comfortable for the user. Recliner wheelchairs may have a taller backrest that makes them comfortable when reclined.

Sport Wheelchairs

Sport for disabled people is becoming more popular, and if you want to play off-pavement sports or rugby or basketball, and many other sports, a sports wheelchair is built to be what you need. They are very manoeuvrable, and they can be customised to different sports.

Paediatric Wheelchairs

Paediatric wheelchairs are for children and feature a small frame with a narrow, shallow seat.

The handles can usually telescope to a height that is more comfortable for an adult pushing the chair.

Powered or Electric Wheelchairs

There are really only three types of powered wheelchairs.

Standard powered wheelchairs.

These powered wheelchairs usually come fitted with standard controls and seats, but they do vary between individual models and make. Some models will fold, and some dismantle to make it easier to transport them.

Standard Plus powered wheelchairs

These are the standard powered wheelchairs with many adaptations and accessories that can be fitted to them to help meet your needs and to make mobility easier for your precise disability. A specialist dealer can help what adaptations you need.

Custom-built powered wheelchairs

Custom-built powered chairs are built with various modifications and adaptations. They the most advanced technology so even with very limited movement it is probable that you’ll find an appropriate product. If you think you need a custom-built wheelchair, you should contact a specialist dealer who will help you decide what you need and build it for you.

Mobility Scooters

Mobility scooters are becoming more popular for disabled and older people.

A mobility scooter is probably the ideal choice for you if you can travel reasonably independently, getting on and off the mobility scooter on your own, and can use a bicycle type steering column or tiller. Disability scooters come in three different sizes: small, medium and large. Make sure that you choose the mobility scooter most suitable for your needs and lifestyle.

Small scooters

These are the lightest and most straightforward to transport. Small scooters usually dismantle into a few parts, allowing you to put it in a car boot(trunk). You need to make sure that any small scooter you lease can fit comfortably into your car if that is one of your requirements, and that you, or your carer, can lift it into the boot. These scooters are usually made with a lighter frame which makes them better for transporting, but this determines the limit to the amount of passenger weight they can carry and the distance they can travel, usually a maximum of about 10 miles, before they need recharging. Many small scooters fold or dismantle for storage and transportation and can be used in the home if you have adequate access. They usually have a lower maximum weight, generally up to 135kg or 21 stone. They are not suitable for road use.

Medium scooters (UK Class 2 and Class 3)

These are usually sturdier and can to transport more weight than the small scooters. The medium scooters can also travel at faster speeds, up to 6mph. However, this also makes them more difficult to fold or dismantle, so they are hard to transport in a car. Class 3 medium scooters can be used on UK roads if they are taxed. Medium scooters can generally a go a maximum of around 20 miles before recharging, and they can also carry a higher weight ranging from about 135kg to 150kg (21 to 25 stone), depending on which model you purchase. However, they do have a wider turning circle than smaller models.

Large scooters (UK Class 3)

These are suitable for longer distances and rougher surfaces and can be used on UK roads if taxed. These scooters can usually carry between 20 to 30 stone (up to a maximum of 250kg) in passenger weight and generally have larger seats. Due to the size of these scooters, you will need to have a lockable storage space for them. They are not easy to transport either. The majority of large scooters are classified as Class 3 so must have road tax which is provided free in the UK providing you do not have a car (only one free tax per person). They can go up to 8mph on the road, but in the UK, there is a 4mph limit on pavements. The battery range is much better too, averaging 25 to 30 miles between charging. They have a horn, lights and indicators.

Having a wheelchair can be exciting, embarrassing, annoying, good and lots more different emotions to different people. When my family, doctors, MS nurses, social services and others started telling me I needed a wheelchair I insisted I didn’t. I knew I was struggling, but I thought getting a wheelchair would make my walking worse. Now I know I need it and I am glad I got it. I say it but I now have three, depending on what I am doing and who I am with. My life is so much better now. Anyone out there not convinced by the people around them, I say try a wheelchair out. You can rent them from some places and you could possibly try it out in the home, or during a weekend away just to see it you can achieve more using less energy. I know I can.

If you require any further information, or would just like a chat about how you feel please contact me.



6 comments on “Different Wheelchair Types

  • I didn’t know there was that many types of wheelchairs, my nan has a self-propelled one but she’s getting to the point where she’s struggling to push it herself. How much would you say the powered wheelchairs are?

  • Hi Sharon, Gosh I would never have known there were so many different wheel chairs. My husband is in Frail Care and has a wheel chair. It is always good to see what is new on the market. My son and his wife usually at the weekend and take Matt out for a long walk. I find it too backbreaking as the sidewalks around here are not too great. Thank you for all this information.

  • Thank you for being brave and sharing this! I am certain you are going to help so many people. My very dear friend is disabled after a serious car crash. Even though her life is different now, she uses a wheelchair that helps her experience the world in a very comfortable way. Most importantly, it gives her freedom. Thank you, I am happy to have found your site.


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