Manual Wheelchairs: Types & Reviews


Information on types of manual wheelchairs including how to find a suitable transport wheelchair to suit a person with a disability.

Definition: Defining the Meaning of ADA Wheelchair

A wheelchair is a manually operated or power-driven device designed primarily for use by an individual with a mobility disability for the main purpose of indoor, or of both indoor and outdoor, locomotion. Individuals with mobility disabilities must be permitted to use wheelchairs and manually powered mobility aids, i.e., walkers, crutches, canes, braces, or other similar devices designed for use by individuals with mobility disabilities, in any areas open to pedestrian traffic.

A standard manual wheelchair is defined as a manual wheelchair that:

  • Weighs more than 36 pounds.
  • Has a weight capacity of 250 pounds or less.
  • Has a seat height of 19 inches or greater.
  • Has a seat depth of between 15 and 19 inches.
  • Has a seat width of between 15 and 19 inches.
  • Is fixed, swing away, or detachable footrest.
  • Is fixed height only, fixed, swing away, or detachable armrest.
  • Does not have features to appropriately accept specialized seating or positioning.

Main Document

Manual wheelchairs are the type that require people to move them, there are three types of manual wheelchairs namely self-propelled, attendant propelled, and wheelbase. Many manual chairs can be folded wheelchairs for storage or movement into a vehicle.

A single-arm drive enables the user to turn either left or right while the two-armed drive enables user to move forward or backward on a straight line. Another type of wheelchair commonly used is a lever-drive wheelchair. This type of chair enables the user to move forward by pumping the lever back and forth.

At the low-cost end, heavy, tubular steel chairs with sling seats and little adaptability dominate. In a higher price range, and more commonly used by persons with long-term disabilities, are lightweight wheelchairs with more options and the top end of the market contains ultralight wheelchairs which have extensive seating options and accessories, all-terrain features etc.

A basic standard manual wheelchair incorporates a seat and back, two small front (casters) wheels and two large wheels, one on each side, and a foot rest.

One of the main disadvantages of using manual wheelchairs has to do with the upper body. Yes, the exercise is good for those who push themselves, however, over time this same motion can lead to injury; something that wheelchair users try to avoid whenever possible. Other disadvantages of a manual is having to inflate the tires and keeping the body of the chair in line. Many factors must be considered before a person can choose between a manual or a power chair.

Manual or self-propelled wheelchairs

Are propelled by the occupant, usually by using large rear wheels, from 20-26 inches in average diameter, and resembling those of bicycle wheels. The user moves the chair by pushing on the hand rims, which are made of circular tubing attached to the outside of the large wheels. A skilled operator can pull wheelies on the back wheels which is key to climbing down curbs etc.

Standard manual wheelchairs are used by those with sufficient upper extremity function that can safely self-propel the standard wheelchair. The weight for this type of wheelchair starts at 35 pounds.

Heavy Duty manual wheelchairs have a reinforced heavy-duty frame that accommodates weight capacities ranging anywhere from 250 to 650 pounds depending on the brand of chair.

Lightweight manual wheelchairs give you the most independence of movement with the least amount of effort. This type of wheelchair is recommended for someone who cannot self-propel in a standard manual wheelchair. The weight of this type wheelchair ranges from 28-34 pounds.

Ultra Lightweight wheelchair is for the highly active individual as they are more easily maneuverable and durable. This type wheelchair weighs in as low as 14 pounds. This helps with ease of use and transport.

Wheelbase chairs

Wheeled platforms with specially-molded seating systems interfaced with them for users with a more complicated posture. A molded seating system involves taking a cast of a person's best achievable seated position and the either carving the shape from memory foam or forming a plastic mesh around it. This seat is then covered, framed, and attached to a wheelbase this becomes more of a custom wheelchair then a standard type.

Attendant-propelled chairs

Designed to be propelled by an caregiver or friend who will push the wheelchair using the handles, and thus the back wheels are rimless and often smaller. These chairs are typically used as transfer chairs to move patients around places like hospitals and airports.

Manual wheelchairs are also useful for people who need to use wheelchairs on a temporary basis. A condition like a sprained ankle or a broken leg will only confine a person in a wheelchair for a few weeks or months. Since it is only temporary, it is unnecessary for that person to buy an expensive electric-powered wheelchair. A manual wheelchair will work fine during their recovery period.

Manual wheelchairs may not have all the bells and whistles that power ones offer to handicapped individuals, but they can prove to be cheaper and more efficient than the bulky power chairs.

Quick Facts: Wheelchair History

It is uncertain as to what can be considered the first wheelchair, or who invented it. The first known dedicated wheelchair (invented in 1595 and called an invalids chair) was made for Phillip II of Spain by an unknown inventor. In 1655, Stephen Farfler, a paraplegic watchmaker, built a self-propelling chair on a three wheel chassis. In 1900, the first spoked wheels were used on wheelchairs. In 1916, the first motorized wheelchair was manufactured in London. The first electric-powered wheelchair was invented by Canadian inventor, George Klein and his team of engineers while working for the National Research Council of Canada in a program to assist the injured veterans returning after World War II. Recently, John Donoghue and Braingate invented a new wheelchair technology intended for a patient with very limited mobility, who otherwise would have issues using a wheelchair by themselves. The BrainGate device is implanted into the patient's brain and hooked to a computer to which the patient can send mental commands that results in any machine including wheelchairs doing what they want it to. The new technology is called BCI or brain-computer interface.

Statistics: U.S. Wheelchair User

The US census estimates that in 2002 in the USA there were 2.7 million wheelchair users 15 years and older and 121,000 wheelchair users under 15 years of age (based on their estimate of 0.2% of 60.6 million children under 15 years of age.). This is a total of over 2.8 million U.S. wheelchair users. From a population of 300 million this is just under 1%.

Latest Manual Wheelchairs Publications

STAXI wheelchair design provides safe transportation for people with difficulty walking distances due to disability illness or injury.

Showerbuddy shower wheelchair eliminates stressful and backbreaking work of shower time for individuals and caregivers.

Looks at differences between suitable folding wheelchairs and rigid wheelchairs.

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