A guide to buying and using a wheelchair
3rd May 2023
Mobility aids like wheelchairs and stairlifts can help to create a positive and happy living environment by ensuring those with limited mobility stay independent. For those who have recently begun to require the use of a wheelchair, this guide offers information and advice, such as the different types of wheelchairs available, as well as tips for how to choose and use a wheelchair.
How to choose a wheelchair
When buying a wheelchair, whether for the first time or as a replacement, there are a number of things to consider. A wheelchair is not only going to be a part of your everyday life, but it is something that is effectively going to be an extension of yourself, and, as such, you should make sure it suits your needs as closely as possible.
Types of wheelchairs
To help you buy the best wheelchair for your needs, one of the first things to do is examine the different types of wheelchairs that are available. There are several options.
Self-propelled wheelchairs are wheelchairs in which users manually move themselves around. In a wheelchair of this type, the person using the chair will propel themselves along without the aid of someone pushing them. These types of chairs are good for those who retain their upper body strength and can remain somewhat independent.
For people who lack the upper body strength or ability to propel a wheelchair themselves, a transit (or attendant-propelled) model is the best wheelchair to choose. This type of wheelchair has smaller rear wheels than self-propelled wheelchairs, making it easier for the person pushing the chair to manoeuvre. If you need assistance in moving your wheelchair, a transit wheelchair is an ideal option.
Electric wheelchairs are a fantastic option for those who cannot wheel themselves around but want to maintain some level of independence. If you spend significant time in a wheelchair, an electric wheelchair will be a convenient choice. They can also be used indoors and outdoors, making them very versatile.
Fixed frame wheelchairs
Fixed-frame wheelchairs are wheelchairs which cannot collapse when not in use. These tend to be strong and stable wheelchairs that can be adjusted according to the needs of the user. The only downside is that they are harder to store as they can’t be made smaller or folded away.
Folding wheelchairs are wheelchairs which you can collapse and fold away when no one is using them. They are light and very portable, making them easier to pack into a car and push around. They can also save a lot of space at home for those who don’t need to use a wheelchair all the time.
For those who lead an active lifestyle and enjoy doing lots of activities like wheelchair sports, active wheelchairs are the best wheelchair to choose from. This is because they utilise a strong but ultra-lightweight frame, making them perfect for active users.
Some people who are less mobile and spend most of their day in a wheelchair can benefit from what is known as a comfort wheelchair. These wheelchairs are the most comfortable option when it comes to regular use.
Bariatric wheelchairs are the best type of wheelchair for larger users. These heavy-duty wheelchairs are designed explicitly for high-weight capacities and feature extra wide seats to accommodate almost any user.
Things to consider when buying a wheelchair
There is a range of considerations when it comes to buying a wheelchair. To make your decision easier, find below some key things to think about and questions to ask yourself.
The weight and size of the wheelchair
Before you buy a wheelchair, think about the weight and size of the wheelchair you will require. Heavier wheelchairs are harder to move around for both the user and anyone pushing. It can also be challenging to get into a car if needed.
While lighter wheelchairs are easier to push and move around, they tend to be more expensive. So, make sure to consider your needs and situation carefully. For example, if you have a carer or family member helping you, a lighter wheelchair might make things easier for them, as long as it still fulfils your personal mobility needs.
How do you want to store your wheelchair?
When the wheelchair is not in use, how do you want to store it, and where will it go? This is an important consideration, as a folding wheelchair can be very useful for those who don’t have much room at home.
How frequently will you use the wheelchair?
The best wheelchair for you will depend on how often you need to use it. For those who need a wheelchair all day, every day, a wheelchair that is comfortable and easy for them to manoeuvre will be vitally important. However, those who only need a wheelchair when going out of the house might find that something more portable and lightweight is a better option.
How comfortable is the wheelchair?
When trying out wheelchairs, the comfort factor is obviously a priority. This is a piece of equipment that you will be using a lot, so it’s important that you are happy to use it. Cushions and blankets can make a chair more comfortable, but picking a chair that doesn’t cause discomfort is an excellent place to start.
Can you power the wheelchair yourself, or do you need assistance?
One of the main things to consider when looking to buy a wheelchair is your lifestyle and upper body strength. If you feel comfortable pushing yourself and wish to maintain a level of independence, a manual chair could be the best choice for you as they are relatively inexpensive and can help you maintain independence.
Alternatively, if a self-propelled wheelchair is not an option, electric-powered chairs are a great way of maintaining independence. In choosing the second option, there are still a whole host of decisions to make, such as the type of seat you require, armrests, neck support and even the wheelchair’s colour.
Do you need your wheelchair to be portable and folding?
The mobility of the wheelchair itself is incredibly important. A fixed frame has a whole range of benefits when compared to a folding frame, such as its superior strength, but it is harder to move about and transport via vehicle. If you need something a little more portable, a lightweight folding wheelchair might make more sense.
What terrain will you be using your wheelchair on?
You should also consider where you will be using your wheelchair. For example, will you be using it mostly outdoors? If so, you will want a chair that is able to traverse different types of terrain but, at the same time, can be loaded into a vehicle. Or if the chair is mostly going to be used at home, you will want something that fits comfortably into your home and is able to navigate its corridors and doorways.
How to get a wheelchair
There are several ways to get a wheelchair, and you may or may not need to pay towards the cost of your wheelchair. By speaking to your GP or physiotherapist, you may be able to get a wheelchair through the NHS. However, you will first need to be assessed through your local wheelchair service. If you need a different type of wheelchair than the one offered via the NHS, you may be able to get a voucher that can pay towards the cost.
You can also hire a wheelchair through the Red Cross or buy a wheelchair online or from a local mobility shop.
How much is a wheelchair?
Wheelchairs can vary dramatically in price, with the cost of wheelchairs ranging anywhere between £150 to over £1,000.
Using a wheelchair
In this section, you will find a few pointers for using a wheelchair, including safety advice and how to load one into a car.
How to set up a wheelchair
For a folding wheelchair, follow the below steps.
- Stand beside the wheelchair and put your hands on both sides of the seat.
- Push down on the seat until the wheelchair is fully open, but be cautious not to get your fingers caught between the frame and the seat.
- If the wheelchair has a safety bar, swing it into position and attach it to the second handlebar.
- Fasten the Velcro strap to the handlebar.
- Adjust the height of the footplates to suit the user's needs.
- Ensure that the lap belt is adjusted correctly for the user's comfort and safety.
How to use a wheelchair
Using a wheelchair varies depending on the type of wheelchair, but for a standard self-propelled wheelchair, follow the below steps:
- Once sat comfortably and securely in the wheelchair, grip the push rims on each wheel and push forward evenly with each hand.
- Let go, return your hands to the start position, and repeat in order to move forward.
- To go backwards, grip the push rims and pull back towards yourself.
- To turn right, pull your right wheel back and push the left wheel forward at the same time.
- To turn left, pull your left wheel back and push the right wheel forward at the same time.
How to load a wheelchair into a car
- Take care, as wheelchairs can be heavy.
- Remove the footplate and place these into the car separately.
- If it’s a foldable wheelchair, collapse it.
- Lift the wheelchair carefully into the boot or backseat.
- Secure the wheelchair so that it doesn’t move around during transportation.
How to care for a wheelchair
- Clean the wheelchair seat with a cloth or sponge and warm soapy water.
- Use a soft brush to clean the wheelchair rims and wheels.
- Store in a safe, dry environment.
- Check for signs of damage to the wheels and frame.
Adjusting to life in a wheelchair
Adjusting to life in a wheelchair is no small task, but once settled, you can enjoy the many wheelchair-friendly attractions, hobbies and activities that are available.
Attractions and activities
There are many websites that highlight accessible locations in the UK, such as Euan’s Guide. Age Co Mobility has also put together a number of guides about accessible attractions and activities, such as:
- Accessible weekend breaks across the UK
- Accessible national parks in the UK
- What is the most accessible attraction in the UK?
Wheelchair hire is another option when you’re travelling. A number of UK beaches offer the hire of special beach wheelchairs, and the Shopmobility scheme ensures that you are never without access to city and town centres.
From buses to trains, public transport is required to provide facilities for disabled people, such as wheelchair users. Look at this guide to days out using public transport and learn how accessible different UK train stations are.
Sports such as wheelchair basketball, rugby, and tennis also prove that a wheelchair doesn’t stop your abilities or prevent you from enjoying some exercise.
Sports fans also benefit from the increasing facilities for disabled people at sports venues across the UK and abroad. For example, football fans can utilise these two resources to watch the game they love:
- Every premier league team ranked by accessibility
- What are the most accessible Champions League stadiums?
READ ALSO: How accessible is the UK?
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This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.