The Different Types of Wheelchairs Available on the Market Today

A disabled man is sitting in a wheelchair. He holds his hands on the wheel. Nearby are his colleagues

Imagine it: the wheelchair of the future. Capable of traveling at speeds of up to Mach 3, equipped with portable speakers and rocket boosters, and made of a brand-new indestructible alloy.

Ok, so we made that up. But as technology improves in various areas, so does wheelchair technology and design.

It's only natural you want to find the wheelchair that best suits your individual needs and that could look like different things for different people, including those mentioned above like speed, functions and durability. But how can you start to narrow down the choices in the large variety of wheelchairs to choose from? Which ones match your style, budget and needs? 

First, Let's Assess Your Wheelchair Wishlist

Before we start to break down the many different types of wheelchairs, it's important to take a moment and look introspectively. What are your major needs in a wheelchair? What size will accomodate your body or your home? What battery type (if it's powered) will work best knowing your capacity needs?

It's important to know what you want before you shop. Wheelchairs are costly, and you don't want to regret dropping $2000 or more on a chair that doesn't give you what you need. So now that we got that out of the way...

The Two Main Types of Wheelchairs

The two primary types of wheelchairs are manual and electric wheelchairs. As the names suggest, manual wheelchairs require momentum delivered via a caregiver or other attendant from behind or by propelling the wheels by your own arm power while power wheelchairs run off of a battery and are controlled via a joystick or a head controlled paddle or sip-and-puff system. 

The advantages of a power or electric wheelchair are the level of freedom and comfort they can deliver. Devices like respirators, custom controls, and more exist for motorized wheelchairs, and these can assist those with more severe disabilities. 

On their downside, they tend to carry a far bigger price tag then their manual brethren. Additionally, because of their advanced electrical components, they could require more maintenance and repairs. Due to their bulky size, it can also be difficult to fit these wheelchairs in certain openings, such as a wheelchair accessible vehicle, as well as transport them.

Manual wheelchairs are more in the "old reliable" category. They're sturdy and affordable, but often lack the modern innovations that people like.

The Types of Manual Wheelchairs

Both manual and electric wheelchairs break into a series of sub-categories with each wheelchair catered for a different want or need. 

The "classic" manual wheelchair requires someone to propel it by spinning the wheels using their arms. These are the kinds of wheelchairs you often see in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. Variations of this model like the heavy-duty or bariatric wheelchair exist too: this helps to make the wheelchair more comfortable and accommodating for larger people. Lightweight versions exist as well, sacrificing some user comfort for a chair that goes into vehicles with ease.

For the athlete, there are also sports wheelchairs. Designed for specific sports, one popular type is a three-wheeled "bike" of sorts used for racing and similar activities. More standard-looking wheelchairs hit the field for activities like basketball, but have added features like larger rims and more stable seating. 

But what if the person you're looking to get a wheelchair for is your kid or another child? Then your answer lies in the pediatric wheelchair. These come with all the standard fixings of a normal wheelchair but are sized down to fit a child's measurements and often have a optional push component for parents to help ease the load of movement for the child. 

Tilting or recliner wheelchairs may be a great option if you're looking for relief on your lower back or rear. These chairs can change positions to make sitting in the chair for long stretches of time more comfortable for the user. While automatic wheelchairs tend to boast wider options, manual wheelchairs aren't locked out of the opportunity. 

If you or someone you care about is dealing with multiple sclerosis or some other form of neuromuscular disease, this type of chair is likely the one for you.

The Types of Electric Wheelchairs

One big selling point of power wheelchairs is their special all-terrain variant. This allows your wheelchair to cross any ground like an unstoppable tank (or you'll certainly feel like one at least). If you live somewhere with difficult terrain or are an adventurous spirit, you may have found your match.

It's important to note that manual wheelchairs have this type too, but they do require much more physical effort to maneuver. 

Another type of power wheelchair is an electric scooter. Scooters have many of their own sub-types, which can range from the number of wheels to all-terrain travel. 

As technology improves, electric wheelchairs have also started to gain some of the benefits of their manual counterparts. For example, foldable power wheelchairs have have been developed to give them the same portability as manual ones. 

Special Wheelchair Categories 

One of the lesser common but still important wheelchairs you might not have heard of is beach wheelchairs. With giant "balloon wheels" designed to traverse over sand without getting stuck or clogging the wheels, these chairs are ideal for that perfect weekend getaway you have planned.

There are also standing wheelchairs, which are fairly self-explanatory: they're wheelchairs with an integrated power raise to allow the occupant to strap in and acheive an almost upright position. There are physical benefits too, as standing wheelchairs can help to reduce the pressure placed on your spine from staying in a seated position.

Some manual wheelchairs are even designed for use with only one arm, called one arm drive wheelchairs, truly opening up their accessibility to anyone who wants to use them. 

Where Do You Go From Here?

Now that you know many different types of wheelchairs to choose from, what should your next steps be?

We'd recommend a visit to BraunAbility sister-company Permobil's website. Check out the adult manual, adult electric, or pediatric wheelchair that most meets your needs.

If you want to know more information about special travel options for people with disabilities or the different types of wheelchairs, check out the other posts in our Article Library

So get out there and live life exactly how you want to, with nothing standing in your way. We'll be here cheering you on as you go!

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