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This is a very quick overview of the different types of chair available.  It doesn't go into great detail, or include every option - we'll save the detail for later posts!  But if you're wondering what is available in the wheelchair market, this post might be a good start.  If you need any specific detail about any of the chairs, please let us know.


Standard Wheelchair

Standard wheelchairs are typically used by people for occasional use.  They come in a range of sizes, but their configuration is often limited.  Standard wheelchairs almost always fold for storage.  Most standard wheelchairs will have a transit option with small rear wheels, designed for the wheelchair user to be pushed by someone else.  They will typically have a self-propelling option as well, with large rear wheels, designed for the wheelchair user to propel themselves, using their arms.

Standard wheelchairs can be fitted with parts and accessories to make them useful for more complex users who use their wheelchairs frequently.  The addition of a contoured cushion, backrest, lateral supports and headrest can enable a standard wheelchair to be used for a more complex, full time user.


Active User Wheelchair

Active user wheelchairs are used by people who often use their wheelchairs for all their mobility.  Active user wheelchairs are configured to be efficient to propel by the wheelchair user themselves.  They are typically lighter weight than standard wheelchairs and have more weight distributed over the rear wheels.  The front wheels (casters) of an active user chair are often smaller than standard wheelchairs.  This helps to reduce rolling resistance and make the chair easier to turn.  Active user wheelchairs are configured very precisely for each person.  They therefore have many size and configuration options to tailor the wheelchair to each person and the way that they use the wheelchair.


Powered Wheelchair (Powerchairs)

Powerchairs are typically used by people who lack sufficient arm movement or strength to propel a manual wheelchair or are limited by distance or terrain.  Powerchairs have electric motors powered by batteries.  Control of the motors is usually via a joystick on the armrest, however other parts of the body can be used as well.  Powerchairs enable people to mobilise with very minimal effort.  Basic powerchairs are used indoors only and will have a small turning circle to cope with doorways and small spaces.  Larger powerchairs enable outdoor use as well and will cope with hills, rougher terrain and have larger battery capacity.  Some powerchairs are designed for outdoor use only and will cope with off-road terrain.


Tilt in space Wheelchair

Tilt in space tips the seating of the wheelchair backwards (imagine tipping a dining chair onto its back legs) and allows gravity to ‘push’ the upper body of the wheelchair user against the backrest of the wheelchair.  This enables the user to maintain a sitting position, but with reduced muscle control.  Tilt in space also helps with pressure relief by re-distributing weight bearing from the cushion to the backrest.  For users using a hoist to transfer to their wheelchair, tilt in space can make this transfer easier, allowing the angle of the seating to match that of the user in their hoisted position.  For other users, tilt in space enables them to adjust their own position, using gravity to assist them slide back over the cushion.


Bariatric Wheelchair

Obesity is defined by Body Mass Index (BMI) above 30.  Those with a BMI above 40 are considered morbidly obese or bariatric.  Specific wheelchairs, both manual and powered, are available for this weight range.  They will often look like other wheelchairs but have different construction materials or design that provides greater strength.  They will have a size range that is larger than other wheelchairs.



Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors
NHS Wales
Posture & Mobility Group
Call us today on 02921 660346