A wheelchair Buyers Guide – How to choose your perfect chair
Finding your ideal wheelchair may seem a daunting prospect at first because of the variations involved in each chair, the practicalities of day to day use you will need as well as all the accessories which you can get with one.
On this page you will find all you will need to get you mobile as we not only have a wide range of transit wheelchairs, self-propelled wheelchairs and powerchairs, but we also have a huge range of categories and product which cover all of the other equipment you might need, such as access ramps and clothing.
Below is a step-by-step process on purchasing your ideal set-up.
This guide is intended to help you navigate the buying process and is meant to give you a great idea of what you need to look for online. Ideally you should test out a chair for yourself in person, so if you ever want to arrange a demonstration or a trial please visit our shop page and find your nearest one to receive more detailed advice.
Here are the six questions you need to ask yourself to find what you need when it comes to selecting your ideal wheelchair:
These are the two types of manual wheelchair available, and the key difference between the transit wheelchair or a self-propelled model is in the size of the rear wheels.
If you have the required strength to manoeuvre yourself then a self-propelled model will allow you a greater degree of independence:
The benefit to this type of chair is that you will not have to rely on someone else to take you where you need to go as you will be able to grip onto the outer rim and manouver yourself by operating each wheel individually.
Should you require it there are always handles attatched to the backrest which will allow the chair to be moved much like a transit wheelchair.
A transit wheelchair have small rear wheels as they are only designed to be pushed by a carer:
This type is suitable for anyone who are unable to propel themselves along or if you are more suited to be transported by someone else for safety.
There are pros and cons to both and you must balance your needs accordingly to select the one you need.
For example, whilst a transit chair doesn’t allow you to push yourself along at all they are generally a bit easier for the attendant to push you as the rear wheels get in the way less and they are usually also easier to transport because they tend to be narrower.
If however you will need to push yourself along and you can do so (even if it is just occasionally) you should only consider a self-propelled model as you won’t be able to move yourself at all in a transit wheelchair.
Whilst the transit models are slightly more compact, most of the models do offer you the ability to remove the rear wheels should you need to transport them.
Powerchairs are a fantastic choice for those who require the use of a wheelchair and want to remain as independent as possible but lack the required mobility or strength to operate self-propelled wheelchairs.
Powered by an electrical motor system similar to a mobility scooter, they have very tight turning circles, have easy to operate joysticks and are great for helping to maintain independence.
Powerchairs vary greatly from model to model in terms of overall power and range so please consult each product page to learn more about their features and specifications.
Because of their mechanical components they do come with a higher price tag than their manual counterparts, but we don’t think price should be a barrier for your mobility. The easiest way to pay for a powerchair (or any powered mobility vehicle for that matter) is through the Motability scheme.
To learn more about Motability you can view our dedicated page here where you can leave us your details where we can send you out an information pack.
Don’t let cost put you off getting one of our powerchairs as there may be many different ways in which we can help you gain your independence.
Transportation of your chair may be a very important issue for you and for this reason you need to select the type of frame very carefully.
The reason for this is that the chair weight can vary from model to model quite significantly as many are built from steel for supreme robustness, whilst others are built from a similarly tough material of aluminium, which is significantly lighter.
If the chair is going to be lifted (such as to be placed in the boot of a car) you need to ensure that the person lifting it is capable of doing so. Having a lighter chair will make this task easier.
Should you wish to transport a chair in the car, you might want to pay attention not only to the type of metal used in the frame, but also whether parts can be detached as well.
The reason for this is that a self-propelled chair could be very difficult to transport but most contain a feature which allows the wheels to be easily removed so that it comes smaller.
Also, some of the steel models contain various features for removing parts of the chair such as the armrests or the backrests so even if the frame is steel, the overall weight can be greatly reduced.
The other benefit to a having a lighter frame is that as well as being easy to lift they are generally easier to manoeuvre either for yourself or for your attendant.
Like almost any kind of mobility aid which requires you to be seated, it is absolutely vital that you select a wheelchair which is suitable for your own particular body dimensions
As well as being at the correct height from the floor, you should also ensure that the seat is deep and wide enough for you to sit comfortably in. Knowing what seat dimensions you require will go further to narrowing down your choices.
Seat height – Your feet should remain supported at all times whilst on the chair, and the height of the seat will help you to do this. This measurement isn’t as important as it is on other mobility aids on which you must sit because there is usually some form of footrest or leg rest which will make it easy to keep your feet flat against a surface and supported.
If you do have some mobility and you are capable of getting up and down from the seat yourself you may find that having a taller seat beneficial.
Seat depth – To help you remain stable and secure you should unsure that your upper legs are of an equivalent length to the depth of your chair because you want to ensure that you are in as much contact with the seat as possible for total support.
You also don’t want to create a gap between your lower back and the face of the seat and the backrest by having a seat which is too deep for you.
Seat width – One of the key considerations when selecting any wheelchair. The width of the seat on most models are fixed of course but most of the chairs are available in a selection of widths.
Some models have many variations to choose from such as the Whirl or the Link which have 5 and 6 different widths respectively whilst others may simply have a ‘standard’ model and a one narrower or one wider version to also choose from. Please view each product page for more information on their relative seat widths.
To assess which seat size would be right for you, measure from hip to hip and add on an extra inch or so to ensure that you have ample room to sit in and that you will be supported on the armrests.
One important consideration you should also take into account is to consider the width of the doors in your home, and especially the width of the door to which you would enter and exit the house. If you have a particularly wide model you may have to double check the overall width of both the frame of the door and the chair to make sure that you will be able to fit through.
There are five key parts to a wheelchair (and more on a powerchair because of the motor), so you should be aware of what they are capable of and why they will be beneficial to you.
Upholstered for comfort, there are actually many variations of the type of backrest that you can choose from.
For example, the most basic design of backrest you can get is a fixed back. This means that it doesn’t fold or recline in anyway and is purely designed to provide you with something firm to rest against.
As an upgrade there are many wheelchairs with a backrest which can be folded from side to side so that it can be laid down flat for storage.
You can also get a backrest which reclines backwards to create a more ergonomic and comfortable position such as on this from Days:
Much like the backrests, this part of the chair can be statically fixed or they can be more flexible and manoeuvrable to allow side transfers to be performed easier.
If you will be moving from the chair sideways it is very important that you choose a model which has armrests which can swing away or can be removed in some way. Please contact us on this in regards to the model you will be interested in should you be unsure how the armrests work.
Another consideration when it comes to the armrests is to judge whether you need them full length or at a reduced length.
The full length ones are ideal for supporting your whole arm as you sit in the chair but the shortened ones (known as desk armrests) allow you to get up closer to tables and other worktops.
Footrests or leg-rests
We have briefly mentioned footrests and leg-rests earlier on in this guide, but just to expand on them slightly, all the chairs comes with some way of supporting your lower legs and keeping your feet from the ground as you move.
Footrests of course are simply footplates which are attached to the lower part of the frame which have been made to keep your feet elevated and away from the floor and supported as you use the wheelchair.
Leg-rests on the other hand go one step further and support the whole lower leg which provides a more rounded support and creates an even greater layer of comfort.
This varies from model to model but leg-rests and footrests are either usually fixed in place or they can swing away so that you can have easy access to the seat when transferring in and out. To help further with this, swing-away footpads care also usually easily detachable so that you can have the option of storing them more compactly or making transfer even simpler so that you don’t have to avoid them as you sit down or stand up.
Whether you have large self-propel wheels or small rear wheels, the rear tyres normally have some kind of grip patterns on them and are solid and puncture proof.
As we have previously mentioned, self-propel wheels are much larger and are usually around 24” in diameter so they can be quite bulky when it comes to storing them. However, you will find on the centre of the spindle where the wheel is attached to the frame is a quick release mechanism which allows you to easily remove and reattach the wheels when you require it.
The smaller rear wheels on a transit chair are fixed on in place but are much smaller so they shouldn’t get in the way when it comes to storing it.
The front wheels on both styles are castor wheels and these allow your or the person pushing you to easily manoeuvre the wheelchair in any direction. They are always smaller than the rear wheels as this makes the turning circle tighter and it also makes it slightly easier and tilt up and onto pavements as the angle required is minimised.
As well as the main wheels, on some models you find these which are anti-tip wheels:
You can see how they work – they simply stick out from behind the rear wheels to stop you tilting over backwards and causing yourself an injury.
The benefits to these wheels of course is that they help make you safer, but you must remember that they will be most effective when travelling up a slope head on and not at a diagonal.
When someone is pushing you they may find that these ant-tip wheels get in the way or they prevent you travelling up a moderately steep gradient so they are normally capable of being folded away when they don’t have to be used.
Vital for safety, there are several different braking systems available on the various wheelchairs, depending on what style of chair you have.
Manual rear wheel brakes – this is the most common form of brake and are found on most of the chairs. This is simply a hand lever located either near the armrests on a self-propel model or lower down under the armrests on a transit wheel:
This type of brake is great for creating stability when transferring in and out of the chair.
Hand brakes on the pushing handles – To help create control for the person pushing you may find that there are brakes located just below the grips of the pushing handles. These operate like a bicycle brake and are a great help when traversing down slopes or when going over obstacles:
The wheelchairs may also feature a combination of these, perhaps containing both or just one or the other. For more information please consult each product page.
Of course, purchasing a wheelchair is only really the first step towards achieving a greater degree of mobility and independence.
As you can see there are a huge range of wheelchair accessories which will help make daily living easier for yourself, whether it is finding the most suitable access ramps to make you home more accessible to clothing to keep you comfortable and dry.
We have a huge selection of products available to help daily life easier but should you require any further clarification on any or you simply would rather speak to a person about your current needs, then just get in touch with us and we will be very happy to assist you in any way we can.
These are very important as this it is very likely that you will be spending elongated periods of time sitting down in one position and you must ensure that you prevent pressure sores from occurring.
Because pressure sores are a very serious, we will always recommend that you purchase a wheelchair cushion in conjunction with your wheelchair.
A suitably qualified medical professional should be able to advise you on the problems with pressure and how to fight it, but a suitably supportive wheelchair is a great way of reducing the risk of a sore developing.
Risk levels are normally categorised into low, medium or high and different cushions have different applications depending on your risk.
As a general rule a person with a low risk would benefit from a simple foam cushion whilst a person at a medium to high risk will require additional protection through something like gel cushion.
Ramps – These come in a very wide variety and we offer many different styles to choose from to suit your needs here.
The ramp sections are split into broad ramps, threshold ramps and channel ramps and each offer their own unique benefits.
A broad ramp are the simplest and are are a wide ramp designed to get your wheelchair over a variety of obstacles such as up kerbs, up steps and even into the boot of your car
A threshold ramp is a specific type of ramp designed to get you up and over the annoying barrier sometimes created in doorways, such as the patio doors which have the frame sticking out of the ground.
Channel ramps are very lightweight and portable so that you can take them with you when you go out travelling. They normally fold up and come with a carrying handle.
Other accessories – Whether it is attachments to the chair in the form of bags or storage, oxygen bags, crutch and stick holders, waterproof clothing, protective gloves, safety additions or more, we can help you source your ideal aid to help make daily life easier and more comfortable.
Please review each relevant wheelchair accessory section for more details.
We hope that you have found the above advice useful and that it may have answered some of the questions you have been asking about what to look for when buying wheelchairs.
A wheelchair may be the most important aid you get so you need to ensure that you are able to use it safely, it is comfortable for you to do so and that you don’t put yourself at risk from developing pressure sores.
You need a wheelchair which is suitable for your needs, so we hope that you now have a deeper understanding of what they may be and where you might need to start looking.
Whilst this guide is not to be taken as medical advice, we have produced this in order to help you through the purchasing process as this can sometimes be confusing.
Should you wish to speak to us about anything contained in this guide or have any further questions about wheelchairs or accessories or anything to do with considerations when it comes to daily living, please give us a call on 0800 0334 060 and we will do all we can to help.