A Guide To How To Buy A Wheelchair

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If you’re in the market for a wheelchair and it’s your first time purchasing one, then you’ll need to spend some time educating yourself about your options.

Since there is a bevy of different choices when it comes to wheelchairs, it can feel overwhelming when trying to figure out where you should start the process.

However, if you feel stressed out about purchasing a wheelchair, don’t worry.

We are here to help you out.

 

What do you need to know about to purchase the right wheelchair for you?

To obtain the right wheelchair for you, you’ll need to know about the different wheelchair sizes, the different wheelchair heights, and the difference between manual chairs and power chairs.

 

Once you understand those concepts, you should be able to purchase the right wheelchair for your needs.

Since there isn’t much information available on the Internet today that guides people on buying a wheelchair, we created this article to help you out.

Below we will cover some necessary information about wheelchairs, like their sizes and heights, the difference between manual chairs and power chairs, and we’ll also walk you through how you can pick the wheelchair that’s right for you.

 

Do Wheelchairs Come in Different Sizes?

So, now that you know you need a wheelchair, the next thing you’ll need to determine if your wheelchair’s size.

Wheelchairs come in different sizes, and there are a few things you can do to determine how well you’ll fit into a specific-sized wheelchair.

To understand the scope of the wheelchair that you’ll need to:

Measure your wheelchair’s seat

Assess the arm type you need

Select the footrest style

 

The Seat Size

First, you’ll need to do some measurements so you can figure out what size of seat you’ll need for your new wheelchair.

To figure out the width that you need, measure, in one single line, the length between your hips from one side to the other.

Once you’ve figured out that number, add two more inches to the total.

Now you have the right width for your wheelchair’s seat.

Most seat sizes are from ten to twenty-four inches wide.

 

The Seat Depth

Next, you need to assess the depth you’ll need for your wheelchair’s seat.

To figure out that number, measure the back of your hip down to the end of your knee while you are sitting down.

After you figure out that number, you’ll need to remove a single inch from that number.

You now know the right depth for your wheelchair’s seat.

 

Knowing the seat size and seat depth you’ll need for your wheelchair is one of the measurements that affect the size of your wheelchair.

To figure out the rest of the information, you’ll need to know, and you’ll need first to figure out the arm type and height you’ll want for the arms of your wheelchair.

After that, you’ll need to figure out the footrest style and size that you need.

 

Wheelchair Arms

Next, you’ll need to focus on the wheelchair arms that you’ll want to obtain.

When it comes to wheelchair arms, they are typically offered in three different styles.

Those styles include full-length and desk-length.

To determine your size, however, you’ll first need to measure your arm height.

 

Arm Height – The height you’ll need for your arms can vary drastically from one person to the next.

To get the exact number, hold your arms up with your elbows and bend them so they are at a 90-degree angle.

Then, see how long the height is from your elbow to your chair’s seat. With that number, you should be able to get your arm height.

 

Full-Length – If you plan to stand up often and transfer your weight, you should consider full-length arms.

That way, you’ll have the support you’ll need when you want to push up into the standing position.

 

Desk-Length – If you want to be as comfortable as possible while sitting at a desk or table, then you might want to consider desk-length arms.

These arms work great for people that still work in offices since the arms are made to be tiny. That way, you can get closer to your desk or table and work more effectively.

 

Footrest Options

Now that you know how to determine the type of wheelchair arms you may want, it’s time to select your footrest.

Footrests come as either elevating leg rests or articulating leg rests.

To figure out the length you need, measure the space between your heel and the back of your knee.

Then you’ll have your footrest number.

 

Elevating Rests – Elevating rests are designed for individuals that experience swelling or other problems that require them to lift their legs.

If your doctor feels you need elevating rests, then you’ll need to purchase a wheelchair that features locking leg rests so that you’ll be able to elevate your legs comfortably.

 

Articulating Rests – Articulating rests work well for tall individuals.

Articulating rests are designed to extend out farther and still provide some elevation.

However, the height won’t be as intense as what you’d see with an elevating rest.

 

Do Wheelchairs Come in Different Heights?

Wheelchairs come in different heights as well.

Remember that when you purchase your wheelchair, you’ll have to learn how to place it in your vehicle.

You’ll need to make sure whatever wheelchair you are buying will easily fit into your car.

We recommend taking a measuring tape if you head over to a wheelchair store to select a new chair.

 

The standard wheelchair height is about twenty to twenty-one inches from the ground to the seating area.

However, if you are very tall or short, you may need to have your seat height adjusted to feel more comfortable.

The best thing you can do to ensure the correct fit is to measure the dimensions of any wheelchair you consider purchasing.

 

Back Height – To get the right number for your back height, sit down in your wheelchair.

Then, measure the length between your collarbone to the top of your seat.

That number tells you your back height.

However, you may need extra back support depending on your health issues and needs.

If you do need more back support, you can purchase a higher backrest or even a backrest that reclines.

 

Seat Height – To figure out your seat height, measure the distance between your heel and the back of your knee.

Since you’ll need to use your feet to move forward, you want to make sure your heels touch the floor when you are seated in your wheelchair.

 

Weight Factors

Wheelchairs are designed to hold a certain amount of weight.

So, all wheelchairs have weight limits.

Before you select the wheelchair that’s right for you, make sure you know what your overall weight is.

You need to make sure you purchase a wheelchair that can support you.

 

Manual Wheelchairs vs. Powered Wheelchairs

When selecting a wheelchair, your two main options will be between a manual chair and a power chair.

To help you understand your options, we’ll cover some information about manual chairs and power chairs below, as well as discussing their advantages.

 

Manual Wheelchairs

When considering a manual wheelchair, ask yourself how much upper body strength you still have.

If you feel you have plenty, then a manual wheelchair might be a good option for you.

Manual wheelchairs move forward as you push your arms forward from the wheel rims.

Lucky for you, technology has made several recent improvements to wheelchairs.

For example, your grandmother’s wheelchair probably weighed about fifty pounds and featured chrome plating.

 

Nowadays, however, you can get a wheelchair in just about any color or style you can imagine.

Plus, thankfully, technology has helped create lightweight wheelchairs.

Most of our wheelchairs today weigh between twenty and twenty-five pounds.

That’s about half the weight of your grandmother’s wheelchair.

Also, today’s manual wheelchair is much easier to push and move compared to the massive fifty-pound wheelchair of yesterday.

 

Also, several manual wheelchairs even come in lightweight styles and are made to fold and fit into your vehicle efficiently.

That gives you a huge advantage when it comes to transporting your chair.

However, some people still prefer wheelchairs with rigid frames, which means they don’t fold.

Wheelchairs that don’t fold transfer your energy more efficiently.

However, your wheelchair will give you big issues without a folding chair because it won’t be very portable.

 

Cost

The cost of manual wheelchairs generally depends on the type of manual wheelchair you purchase, and much of that depends on your size and weight.

 

Below we’ve listed the categories and prices for manual wheelchairs:

Standard manual wheelchairs cost $100-$300 and weigh between thirty to forty pounds.

Transport manual wheelchairs cost $100-$500 and weigh between fifteen to forty-five pounds.

Lightweight manual wheelchairs cost $400-$500 and weigh between twenty-five to thirty-five pounds.

Ultra-Light manual wheelchairs cost $400-$800 and weigh between 15-25 pounds.

 

So, the more lightweight you want your manual wheelchair, typically, the more money you’ll be spending on your wheelchair.

However, the prices of manual wheelchairs look very modest when you compare them to the cost of powered wheelchairs.

 

Most people that need powered wheelchairs are significantly handicapped, and unfortunately, they cannot live without a powered wheelchair.

While that’s not always the case for all users of powered wheelchairs, most people won’t spend the money on a powered wheelchair if they don’t need one.

That’s because powered wheelchairs cost several thousand dollars.

 

Depending on the model of powered wheelchair that you purchase, many of these wheelchairs start at $3,863 for pricier models, $2,363 is the average amount spent on a powered wheelchair, and $1550 is the lowest price for a more affordable, less fancy version of a powered wheelchair.

 

Suspension Systems

Technology has also added suspension systems to manual wheelchairs, which are now optional on most wheelchairs.

If you opt for a suspension system, your wheelchair will be much smoother than it was previously.

However, the shocks you’ll add to your wheelchair will add some weight to your chair and increase your chair’s price.

 

You’ll also have the option to utilize aftermarket options, like Frog Legs, if you want suspension on your front forks.

These systems are often purchased, and Medicare will even reimburse you for them if you choose this option.

If you own a lightweight wheelchair, and the lightest wheelchair you can get is titanium, adding a suspension system shouldn’t add too much additional weight to your chair.

 

Manual Wheelchairs: A List of Advantages

If you opt for a manual wheelchair, you will receive several advantages when you make your purchase. We’ve listed some of those benefits below.

You’ll have fewer parts to handle if you opt for a manual chair compared to a powered wheelchair.

So, you’ll save money, maintaining your manual wheelchair.

Manual wheelchairs are very lightweight and portable.

That makes them easier to transport, and it also means you can use them more easily in small spaces.

With a manual wheelchair, you’ll never need to worry about batteries, carrying around a power source with you, or running out of power.

If you are opting for a manual wheelchair, you’ll need to demonstrate enough strength to move the chair forward successfully.

Make sure you talk to your doctor if you do want a manual chair. Using manual chairs for long stints can wear down your shoulders, so make sure your shoulders are strong enough to withstand using the manual chair before you purchase one.

 

Powered Wheelchairs

Power wheelchairs work better for people that have difficulty pushing a manual chair.

 

With a power wheelchair, you’ll get a chair that uses:

Electric motor

Batteries

Joystick

 

The joystick is used for maneuvering.

If you opt for a power chair, you’ll also have several styles from which to select.

The conventional appearance of a power wheelchair looks like a larger version of a manual wheelchair powered with some bulky batteries and controls.

 

Only two decades ago, power chairs featured a small selection of options.

 

However, since technology has rapidly evolved, we now see chairs that are:

Lightweight

Fast

Powerful

 

For example, several power chairs feature rear-wheel drive.

However, you’ll more commonly see the front-wheel drive and mid-wheel drive chairs as well.

If you want something comfortable to turn, consider purchasing a front-wheel-drive chair.

 

However, you’ll also have the option to purchase a platform-model chair that looks more like your regular manual wheelchair with a power area for the batteries.

If you don’t need your power wheelchair all the time, then you might want to opt for a scooter instead.

Mobility scooters are offered with both three and four wheels and work great for people that don’t need a chair all the time.

 

Nowadays, you can pick a power chair that’s designed to go off-roading or one that is lightweight and portable.

You can even have your power chair customized if you have other health issues.

If you decide to customize your power chair, you’ll need to talk to your doctor and seek expert advice.

 

Medicare Rules for Power Chairs

When it comes to power chairs, one thing you’ll need to know is their cost.

A loaded and customized power chair can cost as much as a brand-new car in some cases.

That’s why many people count on Medicare reimbursement when they attempt to purchase a power chair.

However, currently, the power-mobility industry is undergoing a federal investigation into Medicare fraud.

 

Right now, the federal government is attempting to control the Medicare fraud it’s witnessed in the mobility industry and has modified the reimbursement rules.

That’s created some anger and upheaval in the disability community because it’s made it far more challenging to purchase a power chair and get one reimbursed.

However, if you are considering a power chair, you need to be aware of the Medicare reimbursement issues.

Now that you understand your options in powered wheelchairs, we’ll cover the advantages of buying a powered wheelchair.

 

Powered Wheelchairs: A List of Advantages

If you have any issues with decreased mobility, then a powered wheelchair might be the answer for you.

While they are more expensive than manual wheelchairs, they provide extra assistance to individuals who would otherwise have issues getting from point A to B.

 

When you are outside, you’ll notice how smooth powered wheelchairs are in difficult areas.

You’ll get several controls with your powered wheelchair, which makes the chair easy to move without manual assistance.

You can customize your powered wheelchair to add extra features if you have severely limited mobility issues.

Powered wheelchairs are great for those who want to explore trails and go “hiking” or “walking.”

Many powered wheelchairs can travel at decent speeds.

Some can go as fast as eight miles an hour.

Powered wheelchairs offer independence to people that can’t move their arms well.

If you purchase a powered wheelchair, keep in mind that you’ll be a bit limited because you’ll have to charge up your wheelchair and use a battery.

That means you’ll need to remember to bring an extra battery and even a battery charger along with you whenever you take an outing.

Unfortunately, using a powered wheelchair does mean you might run out of juice from time to time, and that’s the most significant disadvantage of using one of these chairs.

 

Another disadvantage that comes with using a powered wheelchair is their overall size and weight.

Powered wheelchairs weigh far more than manual wheelchairs because of the new technology necessary to power up the chair.

Because of this, most powered wheelchairs aren’t very portable, and they can be challenging to bring while traveling.

 

How to Pick the Best Wheelchair

When figuring out the best wheelchair for you, you’ll need to consider a few factors:

Maneuverability

Comfort

Materials

Accessibility

Weight

 

Do You Need Something That Maneuvers Well?

If you often move around often in your wheelchair and often encounter tight spaces, you will want a wheelchair that can quickly guide you through these issues.

So, you’ll want to purchase a chair that can handle tight areas easily.

Ensure your wheelchair’s wheels are lovely when on the grass, gravel, and other ground materials.

Please make sure you also understand how the chair moves because that will make it easier for you to maneuver.

 

Consider Your Comfort

Comfort becomes another important factor when purchasing a wheelchair.

If you want to get something that’s lighter in weight, you should be okay.

Most lightweight wheelchairs have very comfortable seats that feature incredible cushioning.

Unfortunately, most wheelchairs aren’t designed to sit in for long periods, which may seem odd to some.

However, they are just not all that comfortable to sit in all day long.

Many wheelchair manufacturers are still working on making their chairs more comfortable.

 

Understand the Best Materials

If you want a high-quality wheelchair, you’ll need to understand the best materials for making wheelchairs.

The top materials for wheelchairs are steel, aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber.

Depending on what you want and need in a wheelchair, you may need a chair that’s built out of a particular material.

 

The most massive type of wheelchair is comprised of steel.

They aren’t great to use when traveling, but they are very robust and durable.

If you are a heavy-set person, a steel wheelchair might be useful for you.

Aluminum chairs are still cumbersome, but they are much lighter than steel chairs.

If you are a muscular person, this might be a better chair for you because it will likely comfortably carry your weight.

If you want something more lightweight, then consider a titanium wheelchair.

If you are a lighter person and you want something portable, then a titanium chair might be right for you.

If you want the most lightweight kind of chair, then consider a carbon fiber wheelchair.

These types of wheelchairs are very light, easy to fold, and quite portable.

 

Do You Need to Accessorize?

Since you’ll use your wheelchair on and off throughout your day, you’ll need to make sure you have everything you need on your chair.

Most wheelchairs offer different types of accessories that add convenience to your days.

You can accessorize with:

Pouches

Nets

Water bottle holders

Trays

Handlebars

Power assist wheels

Widgets

Hand rims

Wheel locks

Armrests

There are numerous options available when you purchase your chair.

 

Initially, you might feel like accessories are just an additional cost and unnecessary to have in a wheelchair.

However, once you start using your wheelchair daily, you’ll understand the importance of these accessories.

For example, it’s difficult to eat when sitting in a wheelchair unless you have a customized tray around you for eating.

So, that’s why most people opt for some standard accessories on their wheelchairs.

 

You’ll also need a few nets on your chair so that you’ll have places to store your items.

When you use a wheelchair, it’s not easy to hold things in your hands.

That’s why having extra storage on your wheelchair becomes so essential.

 

How Do I Tell if I Need a Wheelchair?

If you aren’t sure whether you need a wheelchair or not, then consider the following information.

Say you have difficulty walking without help, and you can only accomplish a few little steps before you feel too tired to continue.

If that’s the case, then you could probably use a wheelchair.

Wheelchairs assist people that have trouble walking far without assistance, allowing them to remain mobile and independent.

 

However, if you still feel uncertain about the need for a wheelchair even after reading our assessment, then consider calling your doctor and asking them a few questions.

Your doctor may tell you to make a doctor’s appointment so that they can assess your needs in person.

During your meeting, your doctor may or may not recommend a wheelchair for you.

 

Qualifying for a Wheelchair

If your doctor determines that you need a wheelchair during your appointment, then you’ll be told that you qualify for a wheelchair.

Once your doctor makes their decision, the next step is to contact your insurance provider to see if they can help you pay for the cost of your wheelchair.

 

Qualifying for a wheelchair means that your doctor has determined your mobility is limited, and you cannot walk unassisted without the help of a wheelchair.

Typically, when an individual’s limited mobility prevents them from performing necessary actions daily, then that person should qualify for a wheelchair.

 

However, operating a wheelchair still requires some physical exertion, so you’ll need to be able also to meet those requirements.

To correctly use a wheelchair, you’ll need to support yourself in the upright posture without receiving any help.

Also, you’ll need to comprehend how to use the controls and how to get yourself out of and into the wheelchair without assistance.

 

As long as you can perform the necessities to operate your wheelchair correctly, then your doctor will most likely prescribe a wheelchair for you.

Once you know that you qualify for a wheelchair, you’ll need to start considering a few fundamental concepts about wheelchairs, starting with their size and height, so that you will understand the type of wheelchair that’s best for you.

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Mr. Vincent
Mr. Vincent

International Market Director of TOUSDA, Rehabilitation Therapy Products Experts, Son, Husband, and Father.
Passionate about providing high-quality rehabilitation therapy products, especially wheelchair, electric wheelchair, commode wheelchair, commode chair, mobility aids, walking aids, crutch, walking stick, etc., and share the latest news, tips, blogs, advice, knowledge about the medical industry field.
Excited about TOUSDA's mission to become the premier online medical technology platform that empowers caregivers by spotlighting innovative devices and products to achieve optimal patient response and recovery.

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Notes: This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care.
Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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