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Welcome to UK Wheelchairs - the home of value and quality

Help and advice on selecting the right electric wheelchairs or powerchair

Selecting the most suitable electric wheelchair for your needs requires a fair bit of thought if you are going to get the maximum benefit in terms of comfort performance and independence. Powerchairs and electric wheelchairs are the same thing so we refer to both throughout the guide.

As with selecting any wheelchair the primary considerations are size and fit in relation to your body. As we all come in varying shapes and sizes it is important that we select a wheelchair that best fits and supports us. It is important that adequate support is provided however it’s equally important that you shouldn’t be squeezed in to your chair so here are the key measurements to look for:

Seat Width

Measure the distance across the widest part of your hips and add 2cm either side. This should allow enough space for some extra clothing in the winter but not too much space that allows you to lean to one side when in the chair. So for example if your hips measured 42cm across then you should select a wheelchair with a 46cm or 18” seat width.

Seat depth

This can be calculated by measuring the distance form the back of your bottom to the back of your knee then subtract 2cm. If your legs are not quite the same length then please measure the shortest. SO if this measurement is 46cm then you would be looking for a wheelchair with seat depth of 44cm or 17.5”. Any more than this and there will be discomfort where the seat rubs the back of your knee.

Seat height

This is really relative to the footplates. Wheelchair footplates are generally height adjustable and what you want to achieve is a right angle at the knee.

Arm rest height

Most arm rests are height adjustable to they need to be set so that your arm is approximately flexed at right angles when you are sat upright and not leaning either way.

Backrest height

This depends largely on your upper body strength and mobility. If you have good upper body strength then you will require less support from the back rest. Support starts from the seat surface and can extend upwards to the neck on some chairs. With others the backrest support stops at the shoulder blades. The more support you require, the longer the backrest should be.

Electric wheelchair selection

Electric wheelchairs come in various guises and range from micro transportable wheelchairs through to much heavier more substantial models which are less easy to transport. Some are designed purely for indoor use, some for outdoor use and some models are suitable for use both inside and out. Typically if an electric wheelchair or powerchair is suited for outdoor use then it will be heavier and larger.

The department of transport classifies all powered wheelchairs (and scooter) as invalid carriages and as such fit in to one of two broad categories:

Class two - typically smaller and lighter and can be dismantled for transporting (but not always). These models have a speed limit of 4mph have shorter range capability and are not permitted on the roads other than when crossing.

Class three - typically larger heavier and with longer range, these wheelchairs must be registered with the DVLA and can be used on the roads. Because they are permitted on the roads they come with a range of additional features to ensure that they are suitable and can be seen by other road users. Class three powerchairs have a minimum user age of 14 years.

Whichever class of electric wheelchair that you opt for it is highly advisable to get some training. This will reduce the risk of accident and injury and can provide increased confidence and control. Training should include introduction to controls and their operation, manoeuvrability, awareness and depending on the class of the wheelchair, the Highway Code. Most good mobility centres can offer this type of training.

Hopefully by now you have a clear idea of the size and type of electric wheelchair that will suit you. We will now look at some aspects that will affect your day to day use of a powerchair and how they might affect your selection.

Drive

Electric wheelchairs come with 4 or 6 wheels. Depending on the number of wheels the drive might come from the front or rear wheels when there are four or the mid wheels when there are six. There are benefits to both systems and selection will be affected by how and where you plan to use the chair. Six wheeled chairs can often turn on the spot but require more space as they are typically longer. 4 wheeled wheelchairs tend to be driven from the rear wheels which invariably provides more power and better traction which is important if you plan to use the chair outside.

Accessibility

Depending on where you live and the style of accommodation you will need to assess how you will get to your wheelchair. If you are looking for an inside only model then this is of less importance. However if you plan to use the wheelchair outside then it is important that you consider where it is to be kept when not in use.

Parking

When not in use, the powerchair needs to be kept somewhere accessible, dry and secure. It will also need to have power so that the batteries can be recharged ready for next use. It is sometimes necessary to store the wheelchair outside. If so, a shelter of some sort is required to keep the more delicate parts out of the wind and rain. Depending on your living arrangements, permission might be required to store the wheelchair in any communal area.

Power

Every electric wheelchair requires power which comes from single or multiple batteries. Depending on the type of battery there may be some maintenance involved. Please check with the manufacturer as to the type of battery. With typical daily use the batteries will have a useful lifespan of a year and a half. After this time it is likely that they will need replacing as their ability to hold a charge deteriorates. This means that the range and reliability of the powerchair will be affected.

Charging

Most powerchairs allow the battery(s) to be removed for charging. This can have its benefit and allows the chair to be left in place while the battery(s) is moved to the power socket where the charge is plugged in. Batteries can be heavy however so make sure that this is thought out when selecting the best powerchair.

Control & operation

Controls can come in many forms. The best control for you will be governed by movement, strength and dexterity that you have in your hands. Joy stick controls are the most common and suit the majority of users. Easy to use, joysticks make operation simple allowing the finest of manoeuvres.

If you are unable to operate a joystick then ask for some advice on selecting one of the other methods which include touchpads and other devices to allow control.

Electric wheelchair features

If you are going to use the electric wheelchair for long periods then comfort and support are key. With this in mind, footrests, armrests and legrests can all be adjusted to suit. Ensure that the adjustment range of all of these is sufficient to fit your requirements and build.

Powerchair accessories

Once you have selected your powerchair there are many accessories that you can consider which will make its use easier and more enjoyable. These include:

  • Clothing to protect you from the elements when you are out and about
  • Holders and trays for drinks, walking sticks and crutches
  • Umbrellas and parasols to protect from sun and rain
  • Bags to help you carry belongings from A to B

That is the end of our guide and we hope that it has helped you to select the most suitable electric wheelchair or powerchair for your needs. If you want some further help please use the links below or feel free to call us on 0800 0556377 / 01803 872 020 where we will be pleased to help.

Further help can be found here:

Wheelchair accessoires

Wheelchair clothing

Wheelchair access ramps

Training centres: https://www.drivingmobility.org.uk/find-a-centre/