Buyer’s Guide to Wheelchairs
- Who might benefit from using a wheelchair?
- What should I consider when buying a wheelchair?
- What types of wheelchairs are available?
- What is a power assist wheelchair?
- Where can I find wheelchairs for sale?
- How do I know what size wheelchair to buy?
- What should I consider after buying my first wheelchair?
- How often should I service a wheelchair?
- Can I take a wheelchair on public transport?
- Can I buy a wheelchair with my Home Care Package?
Who might benefit from using a wheelchair?
A wheelchair is a mobility aid designed to improve your independence and increase your comfort as you go about everyday tasks. There are many circumstances where a wheelchair can bring a user plenty of benefits, such as:
- You have impaired mobility because of a disability or a health condition, whether short-term or permanent
- You are recovering from an injury or operation. A wheelchair can help you continue with your normal routine without impacting on your recovery
- You use another mobility aid (e.g. a motorized scooter) and need a lighter option for travelling and holidays
What should I consider when buying a wheelchair?
Choosing a wheelchair is an important decision to make. A good place to start is talking to your occupational therapist or physiotherapist for advice, as they can help you choose what would be appropriate for your requirements, ability and lifestyle.
Generally speaking, here are some key factors to consider:
How do you plan on using your wheelchair? Will you be using it for long periods of time on your own, or will you only use one occasionally as an alternative to other mobility aids like a walking frame?
If you plan to be in the chair for most of the time, a power wheelchair may be more convenient as it allows you to travel outside, navigate ramps and travel long distances while staying comfortable. If you want a wheelchair that can help you move more freely around the house, a self-propelled option with a small turning circle may be what you need.
Also consider whether you or your carer will need to lift and transport your wheelchair. A lightweight, foldable wheelchair can be packed up into a car or van without too much fuss.
If you are unable to push a wheelchair independently, a power wheelchair with a motor may be a better option for helping you get around.
Transit wheelchairs are another option to consider if you have a carer who will be pushing you from place to place – although consider whether the wheels are durable if you are planning on going outside. You will also need to make sure a carer can push both you and the weight of the chair easily, even when you are going up and down gentle slopes.
For a wheelchair that is safe and comfortable, make sure it is suitable for your size and height (we address how to choose the right size wheelchair later on in this guide). Any wheelchair you purchase must also be able to safely hold your weight. In Australia, distributors are required to list the maximum support weight that each powered and manual wheelchair can safely support, so check this limit before making your purchase.
Wheelchairs can differ when it comes to the features on offer. Some options to consider include:
- Footrests – these can either swing away to help you get in and out of the chair, or elevate if you need to hold your feet up while sitting in the wheelchair
- Arms – desk length arms make it easier for you to get up close to a table or bench, while full armrests give you more room to rest your hands and something to hold on to when getting in and out of the chair
- Adjustability – being able to adjust the seat size, seating position, backrests, arm rests and wheel size makes it more adaptable to your body and needs
- Power assist – this provides an extra boost to manual wheelchairs, reducing the amount of effort needed to move the chair
- Pneumatic or solid tyres – pneumatic tyres are more comfortable when going over bumpy surfaces, but the downside is they can be punctured. Solid tyres are more durable, but can add to the overall weight of the wheelchair.
Do you expect your mobility to change in the near future? Will your condition deteriorate? Do you need the wheelchair for short-term or permanent use? These changes could impact what features you need from a wheelchair.
If you spend most of your time indoors, a more compact chair with a small turning circle may be best. If you plan to take your wheelchair outdoors, you may want to buy a chair that can withstand a wider range of surfaces and conditions (e.g. models that that are specifically designed for outdoor performance, with a suspension frame and mountain tyres).
Also remember that while a wider wheelchair may be more comfortable, you need to purchase one that can easily fit through the door frames of your home.
What types of wheelchairs are available?
Wheelchairs now come with a range of features that are suited to different needs, delivering more comfort for the user.
Here are some of the more common types of wheelchairs available.
A manual wheelchair (or a lightweight wheelchair) comes in two different options: self-propelled where the user moves themselves by pushing the hand rim on the large rear wheels, or attendant-propelled where another person pushes the user to their destination.
A self-propelled wheelchair is suitable for people who want a lightweight option that helps them move around independently at home, but also get out in the community. Keep in mind, though, that to use a manual wheelchair, you must have enough upper body strength to propel the wheelchair into motion.
Features to look out for:
- A folding wheelchair that is easy to store, especially in a car or van for easy travelling
- Made with a lightweight and sturdy frame that is practical and easy to lift
- Small enough to man-oeuvre around your home
- Adjustable height, wheels and backrest.
- Adjustable or removable armrests and sides to make getting in and out of the chair easier.
- A rear handle for a carer to push you when needed
A transit wheelchair (also called a transport wheelchair or travel wheelchair) is a type of manual wheelchair that requires someone else to guide and push the user to their destination. With smaller rear wheels than a self-propelled chair, this is an ideal option for travelling short destinations, or for users who are unable to propel a chair by themselves.
Features to look out for:
- Lightweight, sturdy and small for easy maneuvering
- Brakes so the carer can lock the chair (or brakes on the wheels so the user can lock the wheels themselves)
- Comfortable handles for the carer who is pushing the wheelchair
- Adjustable height to suit different users
Power or electric wheelchair
A power wheelchair (also called an electric wheelchair, motorized wheelchair or automatic wheelchair) is a motorized version of a manual wheelchair. For more information on what to look for when buying one, please refer to our power wheelchair buyers guide.
Features to look out for:
- Easy to use controls for speed and direction.
- A motor with a rechargeable battery
- Easy to man-oeuvre both indoors and outdoors
- Able to go over small slopes if you’re on uneven terrain
- A small enough turning circle for easy navigation
What is a power assist wheelchair?
A power assist device provides an extra boost to manual wheelchairs, making it easier for users and carers to propel it into motion. It motorizes the chair in a similar way to a power wheelchair or a motorized wheelchair, but the device is detachable.
A power assist wheelchair can be helpful if you are experiencing strain on your upper body from wheelchair use, fatigue from using a manual wheelchair, a soft tissue injury you need to protect, or require some extra help getting up slopes.
Where can I find wheelchairs for sale?
There are a number of places in Australia where you can find wheelchairs for sale, many of them with shop fronts where you can try the product out before buying and compare the wheelchair price.
Mobility Caring stocks high quality brands of wheelchairs with a range of different features. Explore our website to find out more.
How do I know what size wheelchair to buy?
Your wheelchair should be comfortable for you to sit in, especially if you plan to use it for long periods of time. Make sure it is fitted to your physical proportions by considering:
- Weight – as mentioned previously in this guide, all wheelchairs in Australia list the maximum support weight they can safely support.
- Seat – as a rule of thumb, your wheelchair seat should leave a 2-4 cm gap between the edge of the chair and your hips to ensure maximum comfort (this is roughly two fingers on either side)
- Legs – your hips and knees should be at around 90 degree angles when you sit in the chair. If you plan on using your chair for long periods of time, purchase one that can be adjusted to suit your needs and different tasks. Also make sure the footplate isn’t too low if you plan on going outside where the surface may be uneven.
What should I consider after buying my first wheelchair?
Getting and using your first wheelchair for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. The key is to prepare yourself – or your loved one and carers – before you start. There are a number of things to address to ensure you are safe, comfortable and face minimal risks.
- Adjust your wheelchair to fit your body by moving the seat height to where you feel comfortable, changing the angle of the wheels or moving the feet plate if needed.
- Learn how to operate the brakes and confidently get in and out of the wheelchair before using it independently.
- Plan where you will store the wheelchair when you’re not using it. If you are using a power wheelchair, you will need to position it close to a power point for charging.
- Make sure your chair is insured against damage, theft and loss. Your current home and contents policy may be sufficient. This isn’t the case with all policies, though, so check if you need to purchase additional insurance.
- Service your wheelchair regularly. MobilityCaring offers wheelchair repairs and servicing you can trust – get in touch for more details or to book an appointment.
- If you are using a wheelchair with pneumatic tyres, make sure they are inflated properly before use.
How often should I service a wheelchair?
How often you should get your wheelchair serviced depends on the type you have purchased, plus how much wear and tear it experiences over the course of time.
Generally speaking, it is a good idea to check the tyre pressure of your wheelchair each month, and ensure the brakes and moving parts are in working condition.
If you need advice, repairs and maintenance on your mobility equipment, we are more than happy to help. Book in for a service online through our website booking page.
Can I take a wheelchair on public transport?
Yes you can. In Australia, all forms of public transport are wheelchair-accessible (along with other mobility aids, such as scooters and walking frames).
For more information on how to plan a wheelchair accessible trip on public transport, visit the NSW government website.
Can I buy a wheelchair with NDIS funding?
Yes you can. Wheelchairs are categorized as assistive technology and depending on your individual plan, you can apply to use your NDIS funding to purchase a power wheelchair, manual wheelchair or transit wheelchair.
Mobility Caring is a registered NDIS and Home Care Package provider of wheelchairs and other independent living products. We can help you put your funding towards a high quality product that will best meet your needs.
Can I buy a wheelchair with my Home Care Package?
Wheelchairs are categorized as assistive technology and depending on what level you are eligible for, you may be able to use your Home Care Package to purchase a power wheelchair, manual wheelchair or transit wheelchair.
Mobility Caring is a registered Home Care Package and NDIS provider of wheelchairs and other independent living products. We can help you put your funding towards a high quality product that will best meet your needs.