How to Find the Best Wheelchairs
If you are of limited mobility and find moving around difficult, a wheelchair can make a huge difference to your wellbeing and quality of life. Whether you need it for long periods of time or just occasionally, a wheelchair could be the most useful purchase you make. However, with so many different types, models and manufacturers to choose from, deciding can be difficult. How can you find the best wheelchair?
A person may need a wheelchair for many reasons – permanent disabilities, lower bodily injuries, chronic mobility conditions such as osteoarthritis and severe obesity are just a few reasons a person may need a wheelchair. Also, if someone is recovering from surgery or a temporary illness or injury, a wheelchair might be needed to help them gain some mobility. As you can imagine, different wheelchairs are designed for different needs. We hope that this guide will give you the information you need to find the right wheelchair for you or your loved one.
Things to Remember When Buying a Wheelchair
There are a few important things to remember before you purchase a wheelchair:
Try before you buy
It’s can be useful to try a wheelchair before you buy it, especially if you need to use it for long periods of time. See if you can find a local supplier that will allow you to try them out before deciding which one is right for you.
Make sure it fits your needs
We will look at the different types of wheelchair below, but the main thing to consider is what you need the wheelchair for. A primary-use wheelchair is what you will need if it will be your main mode of transportation. If you’re looking for a wheelchair you can use often and for long periods of time, comfort and ease of use will be a key factor. However, if you’re looking for a supplementary usage wheelchair – a wheelchair that you only use occasionally – you will be probably be looking for something a little cheaper and more lightweight.
Consider the cost
This is probably the most obvious starting point. Wheelchairs vary in costs depending on the materials used and the features it has. It’s a good idea to think about your budget as you begin to search for the right wheelchair.
What Are the Different Types of Wheelchair?
There are many different types of wheelchair. Here’s a look at each type:
Manual wheelchairs can be used in two ways. Either a caregiver can push the wheelchair, or the wheelchair user can grip the wheels and push in the direction they want to go. This obviously requires a certain amount of upper-body strength. They’re usually fairly simple in design and are the most common type found in hospitals and healthcare facilities.
Manual wheelchairs are ideal for people who want something simple. They will need access to loved ones or caregivers who can push them, or have the upper body strength and energy that will enable them to keep going for as long as they want to.
Pros and Cons of Manual Wheelchairs:
Simple design, some models won’t take up too much room if they need to be stored
Not suitable for everyone – requires upper body strength and a lot of energy
Will help to maintain upper body muscle strength
Not as padded as other types of wheelchair, so may not be suitable to use for long periods of time
Do not require charging
Available at a lower price point than some other types of wheelchair
Can be folded, so a bit easier to transport than other kinds
Power wheelchairs have an electrical system which is controlled by the user with a control stick. They’re great for enabling people who may not have as much upper body strength to have control over their movement. They’re designed to be easy to use, and you’ll be able to go up hills and ramps with no problem. They tend to be cushioned and padded for extra comfort. The only drawback is that you need to keep an eye on the battery level in your wheelchair if you’re out for the day.
Power wheelchairs are ideal for people who wish to use their wheelchair very often, or for those whom a wheelchair is their main form of transport.
Pros and Cons of Power Wheelchairs:
A power wheelchair will give the user more independence as they won’t need anyone else to push them
They are much heavier than manual wheelchairs, making them more difficult to transport in cars, etc
Enables people to go up hills and ramps and travel long distances without worrying about getting tired
Can only go as far as the battery life will allow
Usually padded for maximum comfort
More expensive to purchase and maintain
As the name suggests, these are very light, which makes them great for transporting in and out of vehicles or public transport. It also means that they’re not weighed down by bulky parts, meaning users can turn tight corners or fit into tight spaces a little more easily.
However, they’re not usually as padded as other types of wheelchair, meaning they may not be as comfortable to use for long periods of time.
Lightweight wheelchairs are ideal for people who only have limited mobility occasionally, or for people wanting to use them for shorter trips.
Pros and Cons of Lightweight Wheelchairs:
Very light, making them easier to push
Not as padded or comfortable as bigger wheelchairs
Foldable so great for taking it out in cars or public transport
May not give as much independence as a power wheelchair
Might be easier to fit into smaller spaces
Cheaper than a power wheelchair
Heavy duty wheelchairs are designed with increased capacity for heavier wheelchair users. They come in both manual and power models and are designed to be extra comfortable and to prevent pressure sores. They are usually more expensive than other wheelchair models, however.
Heavy duty wheelchairs are ideal for those who are overweight and want a tougher, stronger wheelchair.
Pros and Cons of Heavy-Duty Wheelchairs:
Very strong and well-built
More expensive than some other types of wheelchair
Designed to be comfortable and to prevent pressure sores
Heavier, so not as easy to transport
Another category is the specialty wheelchair. These include pediatric wheelchairs, sports wheelchairs, one-arm driven wheelchairs, and more. The technology surrounding wheelchair design is amazing and advancing every day – now people can have wheelchairs designed for very specific needs. The average senior probably won’t be looking for a specialty wheelchair, but if you’re looking for something that suits your needs, chances are there will be a company out there that can help you. Unfortunately, this usually comes with a bigger price tag.
Specialty wheelchairs are suited for people who have more specific needs than a general wheelchair user.
Pros and Cons of Specialty Wheelchairs
Many types to choose from meaning you can probably find something to suit your specific needs
Heftier price tag than standard designs of wheelchair
Types of Wheelchair: An Overview
Here’s a quick overview of the different types of wheelchair you can buy:
Foldable, pushed manually by user or caregiver
Easy to store
Lower price point
Keeps upper body strength up
Not always as padded or comfortable
Difficult to use for long periods if you get tired
Run by electric motors using a joystick
Allows freedom for a wheelchair user
Usually padded and comfortable for extended use
More expensive than manual wheelchairs
Battery requires recharging
Very light frame material pushed manually by user or caregiver
Great for occasional use
Easy to fold up to store in car or on public transport
Not as comfortable as more padded wheelchairs
Can come in both manual and power models, for heavier patients
Tough and durable
Extra padding for comfort and to prevent sores
Heavier and bulkier, less ideal for transport
Depends on type – can have many different features
Can be just right for what you need
Usually more expensive
Features to look out for
So now that we’ve looked at the basic types of wheelchair, let’s get into some of the features you should look for when trying to find the right one for you.
Weight and size
This is a great starting point. Will you need to transport the wheelchair into a car or on public transport? If so, it’s a good idea to check the weight of the wheelchair to make sure it suits your needs. Also, where will you be storing the wheelchair when it isn’t in use? If space is an issue, it’s good to look at the size of the wheelchair and whether it can be folded. If you’re planning frequent trips in your car, make sure it will fit in the trunk before you buy.
Make sure that the wheelchair you choose is right for your weight. If your weight is over the limit, you risk damaging the wheelchair and injuring yourself.
Upright or reclining?
You may require your wheelchair to recline. This is great if you need to use it over an extended period, as it gives you extra flexibility and comfort and stops you from staying in the same position for too long. If you don’t need to use your wheelchair very often, an upright model may work just fine for you.
Padding and cushions
There’s a lot to choose from here. If you plan on using your wheelchair only occasionally, padding may not be the main concern. However, if a wheelchair is going to be your main mode of transport, it needs to be comfortable. This is when testing out a wheelchair becomes important. Is there enough padding behind your head or your back? Is the seat comfortable?
Types of cushions
- Foam: the oldest and most common type of cushioning, this is pretty comfortable, but they tend to wear out after a while
- Gel padding: these are designed for people who experience stiffness and discomfort when sitting in a wheelchair. There is a small risk of leakage, but this is unusual
- Air flotation: these are usually a bit springier than foam, but run the risk of springing a leak
- Honeycomb: these are made in a honeycomb structure and are made of urethane, so tend to last a long time
- Pressure reduction: these are designed in a way to make sure a person’s weight is distributed evenly to avoid pressure building in one spot
- Hybrid cushions: Made of different materials, used mostly for people who have paralysis
- Bariatric cushions: these are made to be stronger and usually found on heavy-duty wheelchairs.
Top Wheelchair Brands
There are many brands and manufacturers producing wheelchairs. Here is a quick look at three of the biggest wheelchair brands today:
Medline have produced two of the wheelchairs mentioned in this article. They are a global manufacturer and distributor of medical products based in Northfield, Illinois. They were founded in 1966 and are now a huge company, reaching over $10 billion dollars in overall company sales in 2018. They produce and distribute medical products to hospitals and other caregiving facilities in many different countries.
Drive Medical, founded in early 2000 under the name Medical Depot, Inc., specializing in mobility. They manufacture a variety of great wheelchairs, and their specialist expertise means you can trust their products will be designed with users in mind.
Pride Mobility produces a huge array of wheelchairs and mobility-related products. Since the Meuser family took over the company in 1986, it has grown and grown, with Pride creating new products for the market. Their wheelchairs are very popular.
Most Popular Wheelchairs
So how do you know which wheelchair is best? We’ve had a look at the best-selling or top-rated wheelchairs on Amazon for each category (excluding specialty wheelchairs – it’s more difficult to judge which one is ‘best’ in this category as it depends on your individual needs). We’ve looked at reviews, features, and specifications to see why they are so liked by their users.
Manual Wheelchair: Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair
The Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair is a good choice at a good price. It is designed to be easy to store, with sides that push together simply. It has swing-away leg rests and detachable flip-back arms for extra comfort, and the seat is ergonomically designed and padded. In a manual wheelchair, the strength of the back wheels is important, and the Blue Streak offers solid rubber tires mounted on composite wheels and are made to be tough. It has a push-to-lock feature for extra safety.
All in all, this is a good choice for someone wanting a manual wheelchair and is great for the price.
- Size of seat: 16” D x 18” W x 19.5” H (can buy it in 16” and 20” models, too – these vary in price)
- Frame: steel – blue and black
- Brakes: push-to-lock functionality
- Weight of chair: 46lbs
- Weight capacity: 250lbs
- Cup holder: no
The Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair is currently retailing for $94.99 on Amazon and has an average rating of 4.1 out of 5 stars.
Pros and Cons of the Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair
Comfortable padded seat
Some users reported the armrests were not as sturdy as they’d like
Easy to store
Some find it a little heavy to lift
Low price point
Lightweight Wheelchair: Medline Transport Wheelchair
The Medline Transport wheelchair is an ideal option for the occasional wheelchair user. It has 12-inch rear wheels for great performance on outdoor surfaces, and the powder-coated aluminum frame makes it light for easy transporting. The loop-lock handbrakes are easy to use, safely locking the back wheels during transport. It’s also handy for storage, as it folds down small.
It is not designed for the wheelchair user to push themselves – it requires a caregiver or loved one to push instead. It’s also not very padded. However, for those that only a wheelchair very occasionally and would like something light and easy for their family to use, it could be a great choice.
- Size of seat: 19” W x 16” D
- Frame: aluminum – available in red or blue
- Brakes: Loop-lock handbrakes
- Weight of chair: 23.5lbs
- Weight capacity: 300lbs
- Cup holder: no
The Medline Transport is currently retailing at $117.58 on Amazon and has an average rating of 4.0 out of 5 stars.
Pros and Cons of the Medline Transport Wheelchair:
Brake is easy to use
The wheelchair user cannot wheel themselves in this model
Easy to get in and out of the trunk of a car
The seat is a little on the narrow side
Light and easy to carry
No extras like a cup holder or extra padding
Comes with detachable foot supports that are easy to attach and remove
Comfortable to sit in
Power Wheelchair – Forcemech Voyager R2
The Forcemech Voyager R2 looks pretty high-tech and has a great array of features. The most notable thing about it is that, for a power wheelchair, it is designed to be super portable and weighs only 43lb (without batteries) – this is incredibly light for a power wheelchair. It folds easily, meaning you don’t have to spend ages disassembling it to get it back into the trunk of the car. The cushions are ergonomically designed, and its bright yellow design and reflective lights are great for extra visibility.
It doesn’t look quite the same as other power wheelchairs, however, and whether you like the bright yellow or not may be a deciding factor. It’s pricey, too, which is to be expected for a power wheelchair – but reviewers seem to love it.
Specifications for the Forcemech Voyager R2
- Size of seat: 17” L x 17” W
- Frame: aluminum alloy – yellow and black
- Brakes: Intelligent electromagnetic brake
- Weight of chair: 43lb (without batteries)
- Weight capacity: 265lbs
- Cup holder: can buy one separately
- Travel speed: 4mph
- Travel distance: up to 16 miles
- Battery weight: 2.0lbs
- Controller type: Detachable all-direction joystick
- Size unfolded: 26” L x 13” W x 35” H
- Size folded: 26”L x 13” W by 30” H
- Seat height (from ground): 20”
The Forcemech Voyager R2 is currently retailing for $2,198 on Amazon and has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Pros and Cons for the Forcemech Voyager R2
One of the more expensive models
Lightweight for a power wheelchair
Bright yellow color choice may not be to everyone’s taste
Heavy-Duty Wheelchair – Medline Excel Extra-Wide Wheelchair
If you’re looking for a heavy-duty manual wheelchair, this would be a great choice. The seat is 24” wide, and it has a capacity of up to 500lb. It has a carbon steel frame with rust and chip resistant plating – so you know it’s going to last. It comes with padded cushions, armrests, and calf pads. It’s on the heavier side, though.
Specifications for the Medline Excel Extra-Wide Wheelchair:
- Size of seat: 24” W x 18” D
- Frame: carbon-steel with rust and chip resistant plating
- Brakes: two sturdy brakes
- Weight of chair: 60lbs
- Weight capacity: 500lbs
- Cup holder: no
The Medline Excel Extra-Wide Wheelchair is currently retailing at $292.80 on Amazon. It has an average rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars.
Pros and Cons of the Medline Excel Extra-Wide Wheelchair
Good quality brakes that work very well
On the heavy side, so could be difficult to lift if you need to transport it
High weight capacity, feels sturdy
Can be a tight squeeze through doorways (although this is an issue with all extra-wide wheelchairs)
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about buying wheelchairs:
Are wheelchairs covered by health insurance?
Medicare Part B covers power-operated vehicles (like scooters), walkers, and wheelchairs as durable medical equipment (DME).
Should I get my wheelchair insured?
That’s really up to you, but there are companies that offer insurance for wheelchairs. If it would give you peace of mind and you can afford it, it’s worth considering, especially if your wheelchair is on the pricier side.
Are wheelchairs allowed on planes?
Usually, you can use your own wheelchair at an airport up to the point where you check in, and then the airport can provide you with a wheelchair at this stage. Your wheelchair will then be returned to you at the gate when you reach your destination.
Can wheelchairs go on sand?
Unfortunately, no. Wheelchairs do not travel across the sand as they tend to sink.
Can power wheelchairs get wet?
Power wheelchairs contain electronics – ideally, these should not get wet, although sometimes the weather can be unpredictable! If you get caught in a storm or shower, it’s best to try and find shelter and to try and cover the joystick or controller in a plastic bag if possible.
How do power wheelchair batteries work?
You will need to charge your wheelchair batteries at home before you leave the house; usually, power wheelchairs come with two batteries, so you can take a spare one out with you – this is worth checking before you buy, however. The average power wheelchair battery gives you around 8 hours charge.
We understand that a wheelchair can be a very important purchase. Whether you need to use it daily or only occasionally, you want to make sure you’ve made the best choice for you or your loved one. We’ve looked at the different types of wheelchair you can buy, examining their pros and cons and who they are best suited for. We looked at things you should look for in a wheelchair, including the cushion types and padding. We looked at some of the top wheelchair brands, and the best-selling or top-reviewed wheelchairs from each category. Finally, we explored some of the most commonly asked questions about wheelchair buying and ownership.
Hopefully, this has helped you to feel more prepared as you make a decision. With so many brands that are dedicated to improving wheelchair technology, you are bound to find something that suits you and your family’s needs.