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Choosing a Wheelchair

Choosing a wheelchair

Choosing a Wheelchair That Actually Fits Your Needs

I was visiting with a lady the other day. We spent sometime talking about the steps she took in choosing a wheelchair. She is disabled and has some type of power chair to assist in her mobility needs. There’s only one problem; it doesn’t fit through many of the doors in the house. So she really doesn’t use it that much.

So, let me get this straight. Some company supplied the chair, insurance or Medicare/Medicaid paid for it, and someone delivered it, unpacked it, assembled it and then probably gave some instruction on how to use it. All set, right? Perfect. Everyone is paid and happy. Too bad it’s not really usable.

This is one of those problems that should have been anticipated beforehand.

If you’re thinking about choosing a wheelchair of any kind, manual or powered, transport, traditional or specialty, don’t let this happen to you. You need to put some thought into your purchase beforehand, or you may end up wondering, “What’s wrong with this thing?” When truth is, you got just what you ordered.   But, you did not get what you need.

So let’s walk thru this, look at some options and see if we can find some help and direction for you.

Two major things need to be evaluated carefully before choosing a wheelchair.

  1. Your needs and abilities.
  2. The environment where you’ll be using the chair. (House, car, travel to stores, doctors, work, etc.)

First, your needs.

Now realize, your needs could be a “moving target”. Is your health condition temporary or long-term?  Whatever your situation, the best scenario is for you to get the help of an occupational therapist or a physical therapist. Call your doctor and ask for help or a referral. It’s possible to get a “prescription” from your doctor for physical therapy or occupational therapy.  A physical or occupational therapist will be able to evaluate your physical abilities and physical needs. It’s the right and necessary thing to do to get a wheelchair which really fits your needs.

Lots of Choices

What I can tell you is this. There are many, many choices in wheelchairs. Whatever your health condition, whatever your size, large or small, short or tall, slim or wide, there’s a wheelchair for you. If you need special seating, a head rest, or the capability to lie back, there’s a wheelchair which is just for you.  There are all kinds, sizes, shapes, and accessories for wheelchairs. So don’t settle for “good enough’. Get the one that fits just right and does what you need for it to do.

Second, your environment.

Once you determine the features the chair must have to suit your needs, you should then decide what’s going to work best in your home/car/office.

The main reason for wheelchair returns is that they are too wide to fit thru important doorways in the house. Unfortunately, that is usually the bathroom door.

If your wheelchair will not fit thru the door, you are left with three choices. 1. Get a narrow chair. 2. Hire someone to widen the door. 3. Get up and walk.

So what to do?

Measure Twice, Purchase Once.

Look at the sketch of the doorway below. It will help you measure a doorway correctly.

choosing a wheelchair - door jamb
door jamb diagram

The shortest measurement is the one you need to know. That measurement is usually the distance between doorstops, located in the center of the jamb. However, if the door will not swing all the way open (which is not unusual), you need to consider the inside edge of the opened door, closest to the hinge. Does it encroach into the doorway clearance? This is important. You may have a wheelchair that will “just clear” between the protruding door stops, only to find that the encroaching door prevents passage.

 :o(  –   Bummer.

There are other things to consider about the usefulness of your chair in your environment. You know you can get into the bathroom. Great. But can you get into your closet? What about when you eat at a table or work at a desk? There are special arms on wheelchairs available  for that.

Consider what floor will work best for wheelchair use.

In Case of an Emergency

Do you have steps in the house or leading into/out of the house?  Important point – if there is a fire, you need to be able to get out of the house fast!  Preferably on your own. Once you get thru the exterior door of your house, you need to consider the barriers outside your home. You may need ramps to facilitate your coming and going in a wheelchair.  A ramp may require a permit from the city, depending on ordinances.  EZ Access is a company which manufactures and sells ramps. They would be able to help with your best solution for home accessibility.

You might also consider your travel needs. My wife would drive her mother to her appointments and shopping. She would be stuck loading and unloading the heavy, standard wheelchair in and out of the car. I don’t see how she did it, really. It looked like the chair was bigger than she was. So, I purchased a transport chair. These chairs have four small wheels, are light and easy to load and fairly inexpensive. Transport chairs are perfect for travel.

And finally, the chair of your choice should have many different accessories available to accommodate your needs, such as a gel cushion, an IV pole, an oxygen carrier, or a food tray. Backpacks are popular and useful.

To Summarize

If you or a loved one cannot get up and walk, the correct wheelchair is meant to be a tool for your use. A wheelchair is not meant to be a source of frustration. I’m sure there’s plenty of that to go around without the wrong chair adding to it. The proper wheelchair is meant to improve your quality of life.

So just remember:

  • Get professional help evaluating the user and his/her needs and abilities.
  • Evaluate the environments and the uses for the wheelchair.
  • Measure Twice. Purchase Once.

If you have a tip of your own about choosing a wheelchair, then let’s hear it!


Later, Greg



5 thoughts on “Choosing a Wheelchair

  1. It’s good to know that you can get a prescription for a wheelchair from your doctor or physical therapist. My grandpa might need to get a wheelchair soon. We’ll have to talk to his doctor and see if this is something that would be really beneficial for him and see if he would give us a prescription.

  2. People contribute a great deal of time searching for the ideal wheelchair, what comes to mind is usually comfort, pricing, and daily necessities. Thanks for sharing this great information.

  3. Thanks for these tips for picking a wheel chair. I’m glad you said you should know your needs, like if you are suffering from a long-term or temporary health condition. Perhaps it could be good to talk to a professional first to know what options you have.

  4. It’s great to know that there are many kinds of wheelchairs that range differently from size, height, and thickness. Recently, my mother is having a hard time walking. I’m thinking that I should gift her a wheelchair to alleviate her pain. Thanks for the indulging article!

  5. I appreciate your advice to pick a wheelchair that will work best in the areas you spend the most time. It’s probably worth looking into a few different types of wheelchairs and giving them a try, if you can. That way, you can get a feel for how they each operate and can function in your home or office.

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