Choosing a Wheelchair Guide

Wheelchair Guide to Choosing the Right Product for YOUR Needs

Choosing the best wheelchair for you needs can be a daunting task.


To guide you in this process, consider the five questions listed below when choosing a wheelchair:

How much time will be spent sitting in the chair and under what circumstances will it be used?

If you are looking for a chair that is easily portable and will be used for short trips, you might consider a transport chair.  Transport chairs are much lighter than regular wheelchairs and easily fold for convenient storage or to be placed in the trunk of a car.  Although this is an inexpensive and convenient option it is not appropriate for everyone.  Transport chairs have four small wheels and therefore cannot be propelled by the user.  Rather it needs to be pushed by a care-taker.  Transport chairs are also not as rugged as standard wheelchairs.


Who will be maneuvering the chair, the user or a companion?

If the user will be maneuvering the chair, you must consider whether the user has the mental and physical ability to do so.  If a standard wheelchair is too heavy for the user to maneuver, would the user be able to maneuver a lightweight or an ultra lightweight wheelchair?  If not, is the user capable of operating a motorized scooter or motorized wheelchair?   

What factors determine the frame type?

One size absolutely does not fit all when it comes to a wheelchair.  Things to consider when purchasing a manual wheelchair include the width, depth and height of the seat as well as the weight capacity of the frame all based on the user’s height, weight and certain other measurements.  Some wheelchairs can be adjusted and allow for future growth.  You must also consider the environment in which the chair will be used.  You want to make sure that the chair can fit through doorways.  If the user lacks good head and trunk control or experiences pain or pressure while sitting, a reclining back or tilt-in-space wheelchair might be considered.  A reclining back wheelchair features a back with a headrest that reclines up to 90 degrees while the seat remains parallel to the floor.  With a tilt-in-space wheelchair the seat and back angle remain constant while the entire chair seating area can tilt up to 45 degrees.  

What other wheelchair options and accessories should be considered?

Anyone who spends any significant time in a wheelchair should always consider the use of a seat and back cushion.  Standard wheelchairs usually come with a vinyl or nylon sling type seat.  This type of seating is neither very comfortable nor supportive.  Over time a vinyl seat will stretch and sag.  Poor seating is not only uncomfortable but can also lead to skin irritations or have negative effects on posture.  Cushions can vary from simple foam which will add some comfort, to high density foam and/or gel contour cushions which are more supportive.  

You also want to choose the type of arm and foot rest for the chair.  Arm rests are available in full length for more arm support area or desk length to be able to position the chair closer to a desk or table.  Foot rests are available in fixed position or elevating to support legs for people with edema or circulatory problems.


Who will be paying for the wheelchair?

When obtaining a wheelchair through insurance you must abide by the rules set by that insurance company.  All insurances will require a prescription from a physician and some may require additional justification letters.  Keep in mind that not every feature or option that you want or need will necessarily be deemed by your insurance as medically necessary and therefore might not be covered.  Options not covered by insurance can generally be purchased separately.  An experienced vendor can work with you and inform you of coverage criteria.

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