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.
If you have experience in using these manual wheelchairs, we would love to hear from you. Maybe you can share your story to help others. Get in touch here.