In the UK alone, there are an estimated 1.2m wheelchair users. It perhaps comes as little surprise then, that the wheelchair market is extremely competitive and highly-populated. But with so many brands offering ‘best in class’ features and ‘market leading’ performance wheelchairs, it can be hard to even know where to begin – especially if you are new to wheelchair use.
Choosing a wheelchair that will suit your disability and indeed your personal circumstances can be difficult and there are undoubtedly many choices to make. That’s why we’ve written this blog, to attempt to highlight some of the most fundamental factors to consider when selecting a wheelchair.
Manual vs electric
In most circumstances the decision between choosing a manual wheelchair and electric wheelchair is an easy one and is usually determined by your level of mobility and dexterity. In some situations, however, the choice may not be as clear and you will need to decide which best suits your needs.
Powerchairs are often used by those who cannot propel themselves, so if you do not have the required upper body strength or someone on hand to push you all the time, then an electric wheelchair is probably right for you. Manual wheelchairs, on the other hand, are self-propelled and require the user to have the sufficient upper-body strength to independently push themselves. Of course, other factors will need to be considered, including your lifestyle, day-to-day routine, budget, transportability and much more, but more on that later.
Location, location, location
One of the most crucial factors to consider when it comes to finding the perfect wheelchair is your surroundings on a day-to-day basis. You need to think about where you will be using the chair most often? Will you be indoors or outdoors? Will you need to get on public transport or in a car? And even, if you will you be playing wheelchair sports in the chair?
If you spend the majority of your time indoor environments you are not likely to require a specialised all terrain wheelchair or high-powered electric chair, instead you should be looking for something that is compact in size and highly manoeuvrable in tight spaces. Likewise, if you are likely to need to travel over rougher terrain in your wheelchair, a powerchair is often the best choice. Such have been the advancements in technology that some electric wheelchairs now even include cutting-edge features such as spring suspension, pneumatic brakes and even hydraulic systems to make navigating uneven surfaces even easier. To find out more about your options visit our manual wheelchair or electric wheelchair pages.
Today’s wheelchairs have come on leaps and bounds since the first known wheelchair – crudely named the ‘Invalids’ Chair’ – was invented in 1595. Gone are the days of bulky, hard to manoeuvre manual wheelchairs of the past, modern variants now bring a new wealth of features and functionalities that can make a huge difference to your mobility, independence and quality of life. The choice, however, can be overwhelming.
Some basic considerations should be the type of frame and style of the wheels on your wheelchair. Steel frames are one the heaviest materials making the wheelchair harder to move, but it can also increase stability. Aluminium and titanium are lightweight alternatives, whilst carbon fibre delivers an ultra-lightweight frame that delivers outstanding levels of manoeuvrability. You should also think about if you want a rigid or foldable wheelchair.
When it comes to wheels, foam filled or solid rubber tires are puncture proof and require less maintenance but mean a slightly harder ride. Whereas pneumatic tires are filled with air and can be prone to punctures, but provide the smoothest ride and manoeuvrability. When it comes to ride smoothness, additional features such as spring suspension can also improve this considerably, so take that into account as well.
More specialised features are also available from stand-up mechanisms to specialist drive systems for power chairs and even multi-terrain adaptability, so it is essential you do your research, shop around and ask the experts before purchasing a new wheelchair.
Seek professional advice
Whilst we hope this blog has been of some use to you and given you a basic understanding of what to look for when choosing a wheelchair, we must point out that if you require a wheelchair all of the time, it is essential that you seek professional advice from a healthcare professional, occupational therapist or physiotherapist skilled in this field. A professional assessment can ensure you find a wheelchair that is perfectly suited to your specific needs and will improve your quality of life considerable. There are also a number of services and schemes available, each designed to make the process hassle free for wheelchair users, check out our services page for more information.