Wheelchairs are used by people who experience difficulty when walking or who are unable to walk. Manual wheelchairs provide a means of mobility which the user can self-propel or can be propelled by another person.
There are many types of manual wheelchair however four main types are considered here. All four types are availble to suit all sizes from children to adults.
Folding Frame Wheelchairs
Folding frame wheelchairs are the most popular type of wheelchair. As the name suggests, this type of wheelchair can be folded to store in small spaces such as the luggage compartment in a car. The wheelchair normally has large wheels to the rear which the user pushes to move and steer the chair, and small wheels, called castors, at the front. This configuration is called a self-propelling chair. Various options of foot support and arm support are generally available when selecting a folding frame wheelchair.
When smaller wheels are used to the rear the chair is referred to as a 'transit' or 'attendant propelled chair' where a carer pushes the user of the chair.
Rigid Frame Wheelchairs
This type of wheelchair consists of a fixed frame that does not fold, but tends to be stronger and lighter than a folding frame wheelchair. The back support may fold down to make the chair neater for transporting and storing but the main frame does not fold.
Rigid frame wheelchairs are normally used by active, self-propelling users who require a strong, durable wheelchair. As with the folding type of manual wheelchair, various options for parts such as footplate and armrest type often exist.
The lightest models of rigid frame chair are generally referred to as ‘ultralight’ wheelchairs.
Many different types of sports-specific manual wheelchairs are available. These chairs are generally lightweight yet strong and are designed to aid participation in sports such as basketball, tennis and racing.
Many wheelchair athletes have their sports wheelchairs designed and custom-manufactured to meet their individual needs in order to achieve their highest level of performance.
Specialist ‘Tilt-in-Space’ Wheelchairs
This type of wheelchair is normally used by individuals who need to adjust their position during the day for postural reasons. The backrest and seat, or backrest only can be tilted or reclined by adjustment manually or by using a powered unit. Control of the tilt or recline by powered means enables the user to adjust his position independently. This can help a person sit in a position that places less stress on the spine, and hence is less tiring for the individual. The manual adjustment systems often cannot be operated independently, and normally require help from a carer.
This type of chair is available in both folding and non-folding versions and is normally used by individuals who require postural support devices.
Additional Options for Manual Wheelchairs
Power-assist devices can be fitted to almost any manual wheelchair to assist in propulsion of the chair. Different types of device can be fitted, depending on whether the wheelchair is propelled by the occupant or by a carer. The power assist device is removed to make lifting, storing and transport of the wheelchair easier.
A mechanical or motorised unit brings the user from a sitting position to standing to permit participation in activities at standing height. As well as enhanced accessibility, individuals can benefit health and posture-wise by getting into a standing position for periods of time during their day. This chair can be dismantled for transporting but tends to be of rigid frame design in order to give it the strength to support a person in standing position.