Choosing A Suitable Mobility Device (Part 2): Wheelchairs
Wheelchair, as defined in the Glossary of Wheelchair Terms and Definitions, is a wheeled mobility device with a seating support system for a person with impaired mobility, intended to provide mobility in a seated position as its primary function. In addition, the Institute of Medicine model on the enablement/disablement process describes it as an essential for altering the interaction a person with mobility limitation has with the environment.
For a wheelchair to effectively serve its purpose of improving mobility and function, proper prescription and fitting, done usually by a doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist, are needed. All aspects of a person’s lifestyle as well as environmental and disease-related factors are considered throughout the process. “Who will be using it?”, “What functional level is expected?”, and “Where will the chair be used?” are just some questions to be addressed to appropriately prescribe a wheelchair for an individual. A poorly fit wheelchair can exacerbate the problems associated with an individual’s disability and could cause secondary complications such as pressure sores, contractures, and respiratory difficulties.
Wheelchair is often categorized as manual wheeled, or power wheeled. The main difference of the two would be that in the manual wheelchair, the user relies on himself or an assistant for manual propulsion while in power wheelchair, motor power from an electric source is used. Choosing the type of wheelchair for an individual will rely heavily on the results of the examination and fitting by the medical team mentioned early on. Advantages of the manual wheelchair from the power wheelchair, as shown in the table below, are also factored in.
Advantages of Manual Wheelchairs
Advantages of Motorised Wheelchairs
Transportation: Easy to transport; can travel without special vehicles
Maintenance: Can be worked on independently
Exercise: Theoretical benefit to the user from using own force to propel wheelchair
Aesthetics: Less appearance of disability
Distance: Can travel long distances without fatigue
Speed: Can travel at higher speed without fatigue
Terrain: May be able to traverse rougher terrain
Protect the arm: Avoid repetitive strain injuries that are due to manual wheelchair propulsion
Note: Adapted from De Lisa’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Principles and Practice by W.R. Frontera & J.A. Delisa, 2010, p.2106, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Health.
Much like in walking aids, choosing the right wheelchair for an individual is multi-factorial and is best achieved with the help of professionals. A properly prescribed and fit wheelchair will be able to provide a seated environment that is both safe and comfortable in which an individual can achieve optimum function.
Frontera, W. R., & Delisa, J. A. (2010). DeLisa’s Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation: principles and
practice. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Health.
Md, D. C. X. (2015). Braddom’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (5th ed.). Elsevier.
O’Sullivan, S. B. (2018). National Physical Therapy Examination Review and Study Guide (21st ed.).
Waugh, K., et al. 2013. Glossary of wheelchair terms and definitions, Ver. 1.0, Dec 2013. Paralysed
Veterans of America. Denver, Colorado. Available for download from:
[Manual Wheelchair]. (n.d.). https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0559/1741/2545/products/TOMTAW878LAJ_1024x1024@2x.png?v=1617258370
[Motorised Wheelchair]. (n.d.). https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0559/1741/2545/products/SHHHBLD3-B_1024x1024@2x.png?v=1618759223
[Standard Wheelchair]. (n.d.). https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0559/1741/2545/products/TOMTSW809_1024x1024@2x.png?v=1617962187