When you think of manual wheelchairs you may not realise just how much these have developed in recent years or the features you can now get with them. They have come a long way since the first known wheelchair was custom-made for King Philip II, the King of Spain during the 16th century. This chair featured (what at the time was considered) an elaborate design and included armrests and leg rests. However, due to its heavy weight and lack of a propulsion mechanism, it required someone to push it.
Thankfully, the design of manual wheelchairs has evolved considerably over the years and today’s modern versions offer numerous different functional and comfort variations to meet the specific needs of their users.
From self-propelled manual versions to ultra-lightweight foldable wheelchairs suitable for travel, electric wheelchairs, and even specialist versions designed for wheelchair sports
Manual wheelchairs, as you might imagine, are usually propelled by the user, typically by pushing on round bars that surround the wheels, but they can also feature handles to the rear so they can also be manoeuvred by carers, family members or friends.
Without trying to state the obvious too much, the self-propelled design traditionally consists of four wheels, two large wheels to the rear to support the users weight and help propel the wheelchair, and two smaller wheels known as casters at the front to help assist manoeuvrability.
It is the variations of this traditional chair that make mobility more accessible for a wider range of disabled people. For example, the lightweight rigid wheelchairs are self-propelled wheelchairs and are more suited to independent mobility. They offer a combination of safety and durability with customisable features such as armrests, footrests, and height-adjustable rear wheels. They also come as attendant assisted versions.
For those who do not have the ability to propel themselves or require a chair for travelling with a carer, the folding transit wheelchairs range would be more suitable. These are lightweight, transportable and for many, more practical. Key features include quick release rear wheels, swing away and detachable armrests, swing in/out footrests, puncture proof tyres, fitted lap belt, folding backrest and lightweight and padded nylon upholstery.
Then there are non-folding transport chairs which feature four small wheels to make the chair extremely lightweight and easy to move. They are designed to be manoeuvred by a carer and are often found in hospitals or medical facilities.
These basic chairs are often available with numerous special features such as elevating seats, tilt in space, and lever propelled chairs. Definitely worth going to see some being demonstrated to understand what you can get and what you need.
If looking for a manual wheelchair is all new to you, you really need to spend some time considering how you will use it, the terrain you might encounter, whether you will want to transport it and then comparing models, and definitely try different models before buying.
As with all mobility equipment it is best to purchase from a supplier affiliated with the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) to ensure you are getting advice and guidance from a business that has agreed to the BHTA Code of Practice and will not pressure sell.
What is a Manual Wheelchair
A manual wheelchair is a mobility device that is propelled by the user or by a caregiver pushing from behind. It is designed to provide independent mobility for individuals who have difficulty walking or cannot walk at all. Here are some key features and components of a manual wheelchair:
Frame: The frame forms the structure of the wheelchair and provides stability and support. Manual wheelchairs typically have a lightweight frame made of materials like aluminium or steel, balancing durability and ease of manoeuvrability.
Seat and Backrest: The seat and backrest provide support and comfort for the user. They are typically cushioned and upholstered with materials that promote comfort and proper positioning. The seat and backrest may also be adjustable to accommodate different user preferences and needs.
Wheels: Manual wheelchairs have two large rear wheels, which are typically self-propelled by the user’s arms. The wheels may have push rims or hand rims that the user can grip to propel the wheelchair forward or backward. Some manual wheelchairs also have smaller front wheels, called casters or front wheels, to aid in steering and manoeuvrability.
Footrests or Leg Rests: Manual wheelchairs often include footrests or leg rests that can be adjusted or removed. These provide support and stability for the user’s lower limbs. Footrests are typically positioned at the front of the wheelchair, while leg rests are hinged and can be elevated or extended to support the legs.
Brakes: Manual wheelchairs are equipped with brakes to provide safety and stability. The user or caregiver can engage the brakes to prevent the wheelchair from moving or rolling when necessary.
Armrests: Many manual wheelchairs feature armrests that provide support and comfort for the user’s arms. Armrests can be fixed or adjustable, depending on the wheelchair model and user preferences.
Folding Mechanism: One of the advantages of manual wheelchairs is their ability to fold for easier transportation and storage. Folding manual wheelchairs can be collapsed by folding the backrest and footrests, making them more compact and portable.
Manual wheelchairs offer individuals with mobility challenges increased independence and mobility. They are available in various styles, sizes, and configurations to accommodate different user needs, preferences, and physical abilities. It’s important to consider factors such as seat width, weight capacity, adjustability, and additional features when selecting a manual wheelchair to ensure it suits the specific requirements of the user.
Can you get a Wheelchair on the NHS?
Yes, in the United Kingdom, the National Health Service (NHS) provides wheelchairs and mobility aids to individuals who have a medical need for them. The availability of wheelchairs through the NHS is subject to assessment and eligibility criteria. The process typically involves the following steps:
Assessment: An assessment is carried out by healthcare professionals, such as occupational therapists or physiotherapists, who evaluate the individual’s mobility needs and determine the appropriate type of wheelchair.
Prescription: Based on the assessment, a prescription is issued for the recommended wheelchair type and specifications. This prescription includes details such as the type of wheelchair (e.g., manual, powered), seating requirements, and any additional accessories or modifications needed.
Wheelchair Provision: The prescribed wheelchair is then provided by the NHS or contracted suppliers. In some cases, the wheelchair may be available for immediate provision, while in others, there may be a waiting period depending on the demand and availability of resources.
Maintenance and Support: The NHS also provides ongoing maintenance and support for the wheelchair. This includes repairs, adjustments, and replacements as needed.
It’s important to note that the eligibility criteria and specific processes may vary depending on the region within the UK. The NHS wheelchair services aim to ensure that individuals with mobility needs have access to appropriate equipment to support their independence and quality of life. If you believe you or someone you know may be eligible for an NHS wheelchair, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or reach out to your local NHS wheelchair service for guidance on the assessment and application process in your area.