People using wheelchairs might feel stranded in their vehicles. However, a perfect wheelchair should liberate you. It can take you to work, allow you to hang out with friends, or do your daily chores.
Like a pair of shoes, a wheelchair comes in many styles designed according to specific purposes. If a wheelchair does not fit, do not stop looking. You can only enjoy the full functionality when you are comfortable with the chair.
So let’s take a look at all the types of wheelchairs available in the market.
1. Manual chairs
A manual chair has to be propelled by your arms. So you can imagine how much upper body strength it requires. However, like in the olden days, wheelchairs today do not weigh fifty pounds.
The modern wheelchairs are made of lightweight titanium. This makes lifting the chair in and out of vehicles easy and is also better for your shoulders.
Alternatively, there are many chairs available on the market which are lever-driven. This can save your shoulders, which might get damaged due to pushing and propelling the chair.
You can also find ones with folding frames. It is much more portable than a rigid frame chair. It can also fit in the overhead storage compartments of most airplanes. The rigid frame has one advantage: less energy is needed to propel the chair forward.
The best innovation and the secret behind the smooth ride are that the modern wheelchair has a suspension system. The other thing is that it adds to the chair’s weight and cost.
You also have many options when it comes to the tires and wheels. Tires that are specifically designed for off-road propulsion and ones that allow for low impact on your arms and hands. You can also choose the tire according to the style you like best.
2. Power chairs
If you cannot push the wheelchair yourself, you can go for a battery or electric motor-powered wheelchair. It is controlled by a joystick and makes maneuvering a smooth task.
You can find power chairs in several styles. The standard style looks bulky with the motor, batteries, and control systems. Then there are the platform power chairs. These look more like ordinary chairs.
Modern power chairs have a wide range of features to offer. They come in lightweight frames and are much more powerful than they were a few decades ago.
The power chairs mostly have a rear-wheel drive, but there are a few options for front-wheel and mid-wheel drive. It goes without saying that power chairs are easier to drive and turn, especially in small spaces.
With the latest innovations, some models can be folded for travel and designed to be used on rough terrains. The best news is that you can get a chair customized according to your needs and preferences.
You can find the right chair that is made just for you. You will, however, need professional help from an occupational therapist or a trustworthy chair supplier to get a power chair configured to your unique needs.
3. Standing Chairs
These are like manual chairs but with the added feature that helps the user rise to a standing position.
You can install a power assist to employ the rising feature. This can help you have eye-to-eye contact with someone.
The disadvantage, however, is that they are obviously expensive and heavy. For some, the health benefits of standing up might outweigh the disadvantages. It will improve blood circulation, reducing pressure sores, spasms, and contractions.
Other than the motorized standing chairs, standing frames are also an option. It is a static frame that can support and assist you in standing.
Wheelchair options are many. Some are categorized according to your needs, such as the kind of battery or cushion you need. Others are designed according to your function – whether you are a sporty person or an elderly user.
Below are some chair models discussed according to various functions.
1. Kids’ chairs
Since children’s bodies are ever-growing, their chairs have to be constantly replaced or adjusted. This can be costly, but luckily some wheelchair manufacturing companies have brought out adjustable chairs. These are more accommodating to a kid’s growing needs.
There are also wheelchairs available in the market that are more attractive and are designed especially for kids and their “cool” sense of style. There are several designs as well as colors options for the frame and the upholstery so that you can ride with style.
2. Active Wheelchairs
These are designed to be more adjustable and flexible in terms of usage. It is suited to an active lifestyle.
Active wheelchairs are the right fit for a busy routine because they are super light and come with a folding frame. You can also find a sports active wheelchair model.
Active chairs are generally manual, but you can find electric or battery-powered active wheelchairs as well. Since it is versatile in its design, you can make further adjustments to it. The cost of an active wheelchair will depend on the features and the materials used.
3. All-Terrain Wheelchair
As the name suggests, they are suitable for all kinds of terrains. Beaches, grass, paths, or rough tracks – this is a perfect choice for your next adventure.
Most of these are electric or battery-powered, but some manual models exist. They are all available in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and other customization. However, they are pretty expensive, and the maintenance is no less.
They are made of durable and strong titanium, which is also why the cost is so high.
4. Shower Commode Wheelchair
It is in the bathrooms that most serious accidents take place. It is challenging and dangerous to maneuver in a tight and wet space.
Shower Commode Chairs are waterproof and made of stainless steel. The tires are designed to have firmer traction, so there are no slips. The sizes are also ergonomic and are created keeping the turning angles and other anthropometric dimensions in mind.
5. Single-Arm Wheelchair
The name is relatively self-explanatory. These wheelchairs allow the user to propel with one hand only.
The mechanism is quite simple: when one wheel is rotated, it causes both wheels to propel forward.
6. Narrow Wheelchairs
It is designed to be operated in tight spaces and is ideal for small apartments. The size makes it lightweight and easy to carry around. The narrowest chair is eighteen by twenty-two inches in size.
They are usually manual chairs, but you can get them customized according to your special needs.
7. Smart Wheelchairs
It’s a fully automated wheelchair that employs artificial intelligence to make your ride effortless. It also has an obstacle detection feature built-in which can avoid any collisions.
Since it is so technologically advanced, it is also very expensive.
8. Mobility Scooters
They can be categorized as a type of electric-powered wheelchair. However, the design is more like a scooter. It is also more convenient for outdoor adventures and travel.
They are also called electric scooters and are pretty comfortable even for long journeys.
9. Heavy-Duty Wheelchairs
Also known as Bariatric wheelchairs, these chairs are created to support weights up to 700 pounds.
Usually, wheelchairs can carry weights of around 300 pounds maximum. If you have a large body structure or weight, the heavy-duty wheelchair might be the one for you.
Since it has to accommodate a greater weight capacity, it is not built of sleek and lightweight materials such as titanium. Steel is used mainly, which means that the chair’s own weight is also quite heavy-duty.
Thus, it can be challenging to carry around.
10. Lightweight Wheelchair
Designed for portability and smooth mobility, the lightweight chairs are made of Titanium and alloys. Generally, they also come in foldable frames, which can be convenient if you travel a lot.
The downside is that due to the use of titanium, they can be heavy on the pockets.
11. Assisted Manual Wheelchairs
Also called transport wheelchairs, these are more compact and lightweight than traditional wheelchairs.
However, they cannot be used independently. You will require an assistant or a caregiver who will have to propel the chair.
12. Sports Wheelchair
Mobility-impaired individuals might not be able to enjoy sports. This should never be the case. Sports wheelchairs allow you to continue your passion for sports and stay physically active.
Sports wheelchairs are lightweight and have efficient ergonomics. They are designed for high pressures and speed. Different wheelchairs are designed to cater to specific sports.
· Racing Wheelchairs
A chair racer can cover up to 30 kilometers in an hour! These wheelchairs are designed to endure high speeds and velocities.
They have a triangular shape with three wheels, making them fit for riding on a straight road.
· Basketball Wheelchairs
There is not a universal measurement for basketball wheelchairs. Each chair is exclusively designed and customized for the user according to their size, use, and other preferences.
It is made of titanium which is both strong and durable. It, therefore, costs a lot.
· Beach Wheelchair
It is challenging to maneuver wheelchairs on the beach sand. The beach wheelchair has wide tires because the thin tires offer less friction against the soft sand so that you can enjoy the volleyball match at the beach.
They are available in both manual propulsion and electric-powered designs.
However, it is heavy and costly. It can be challenging to transport the wheelchair from one place to another.
· Tennis Wheelchair
These wheelchairs are lightweight and have a flexible framework so the player can move and change positions rapidly. They are designed to be easily maneuvered on grass as well as clay courts.
Like most sports wheelchairs, these are also expensive because of their material mainly. However, they are pretty durable and have a long life span.
You can also get them customized for a better experience.
13. Transport Wheelchair
Designed to be propelled by another person, transport wheelchairs have four small wheels instead of two wheels.
They are meant to be used temporarily and not for an extended period. If you use a wheelchair only when you are tired of walking or cannot walk any longer because of joint aches, this chair is for you.
The transport wheelchairs are easy to carry around and can also be folded. Since they have smaller wheels, they can be stored in a small space.
14. Custom Made Wheelchairs
Usually, an individual cannot find a suitable wheelchair fit for themselves. There is no universal design that fits all. Often, the requirements of a user change over time, and the chair has to be replaced.
Customized wheelchairs offer a solution. The sizes and technology of these wheelchairs are “made to measure.” The cost varies according to the size, material, and technology employed.
Essential Features Of A Wheelchair
We have listed below the most essential features of a wheelchair you must read up on.
Batteries are the most critical feature of the wheelchair. If you run out of batteries, it can get you stranded. This can be a problem, especially if you are not at home.
Unlike the batteries in a car that are 12 volts, power chair batteries should be 24-volt.
Moreover, they must be deep-cycle and discharged over a long period. The car batteries provide short power bursts unsuitable for a power chair. The Deep-cycle component is available in a few different sizes, such as Group-22, Group-24, and Group-27.
All you need to remember is that a battery with a more significant group number has the capacity to store more power. It will also be more prominent in size physically.
Other than the deep cycle unit variations, there are three main types of batteries.
a) Wet batteries
These are also known as Lead-acid because when lead and sulfuric acid react, they produce electrical energy. Once a month, you will have to fill the battery cells with distilled water.
These are the cheapest options on the market, but they can be challenging to handle if you are on an airplane.
b) Gel batteries
Although it is a little more expensive than the wet battery, this variety is preferred for air travel. They also have a longer life span.
c) Absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries
The AGM batteries have the longest life span and are unsurprisingly the most expensive too. However, like gel batteries, they do not require much maintenance. You can also easily use them on an airplane.
2. Power assist
Power assists provide a forward push on the rim that boosts the chair forward. These can be installed on a manual chair as well. There are mainly two types of power assists available. One boosts the force by 1.5 and increases the pressure by 3 units.
The only disadvantage is the weight and the cost that is added. However, the advantages outweigh the cons. Your shoulders won’t hurt from constant propulsion. It will save your energy.
The assist is installed under the seat or on the wheel rim. It does not make the chair look bulky or beefy while giving you other benefits of a power chair. If you emphasize the possible medical benefits of a power assist installation, your insurance might even cover the cost.
3. Seating and positioning
Wheelchair users are at a high risk of suffering from pressure sores. They require customized seating cushions and systems that are more comfortable and give them some relief.
You can choose from foam, air, or gel seats according to your symptoms and needs.
Foam is your cheapest and the most lightweight option. Over time, it can wear out and lose its firmness and compression.
Air cushions are effective but may lose air through leakage. You will also have to adjust your mindset if your altitude changes. There is another type of air cushion full of many small sealed air cells. You can adjust the cushion by unzipping, adding, or removing a few air cells.
Gel cushions are more effective than air flotation cushions for sore prevention. However, they can be a little heavy as they are filled with slow-flowing gel.
There is another option of the dynamic cushion. It employs an oscillating pump that keeps alternating the pressure. The disadvantage is that the pump runs on the batteries, so it requires regular maintenance. It also increases the weight of the chair.
You can ask a professional seating and positioning expert to help you choose the right product.
4. Tilt or recline
Another way to prevent pressure sores is employing the tilt-in-space or the recline feature. This can help you when you have to sit for an extended period.
The tilt-in-space feature tilts the seat orientation without changing the hip, ankle, and knee angle. This redistributes strain from the hips and posterior thighs to the chest and head.
In a recline system, the seat-to-back angle is flattened out. It also has an additional feature of raising the legs to a straight angle. This opens the hip-to-back angle and the knee angle. Recline system assists in making transfers and with bowel or bladder function.
Apart from the essential features, you can install several accessories to make life easier.
- Safety belt
- Extra support for head and neck or limbs
- Crutches holder
- Oxygen tank holder
- Holder for drinks
- Wheel guards
Suitability for Wheelchair Use
Unfortunately, our environments are not designed for everyone. As a wheelchair user, you might feel excluded from the built environment.
As necessary as it is to select a suitable wheelchair, it is just essential to ensure the space around you facilitates you. This will also help you make a better decision about your wheelchair selection.
Some factors to consider are as follows:
- You will have to go up and down quite a few curbs daily.
- The doorways might be too narrow for a wheelchair.
- The ramps could be too steep.
- The bathroom should be universally designed. The sitting and squatting toilets might not be accessible for you.
- Depending on your location, the wheelchair will be exposed to rain, humidity, snow, and hail.
- You will shower while sitting in the wheelchair.
- The wheelchair will be exposed to extreme temperatures, and in case of hot climates, also your sweat.
- How will you transport goods? On the upholstery, push handles, footrests, or under the seat?
- How will the wheelchair be transported while you are traveling?
- Will you be able to maneuver the wheelchair in cramped and tight spaces?
Health and Safety
Although a wheelchair is tremendous assistance, it may reduce your health risks. You should not risk your health in favor of a low cost. Purchase the chair that is safest and the most comfortable.
Don’t forget the wrong wheelchair can cause you injuries. You should be aware and well informed on what to avoid while using the wheelchair.
- It can result in pressure sores if the cushioning is not adequate.
- If the chair is unstable, it can tip over. You can fall out and injure yourself.
- A wheelchair that is too heavy, too comprehensive, or just designed wrong can cause shoulder injuries. It can also be caused by overloading or overuse.
- Any blunt or sharp edges on the wheelchair surfaces can cause an injury.
- If the wheelchair is poorly designed, you can get your skin or fingers pinched.
- The wheelchairs might not be durable enough to be used daily. If it fails, you can fall and injure yourself. Or you can get stranded somewhere with no help.
Finding the perfect fit for a wheelchair like a bicycle or a shoe takes time. Many options are available based on your custom needs and preferences. Make sure to evaluate all your needs and environment features before you make a decision.
It is a costly purchase that may not be covered by your insurance company. So just be patient and do not compromise your health and safety ever.