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Wheelchairs 101

Wheelchair Options

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Wheel chair options include:

Cushions: Padding in the seat of the chair. Cushions not only provide comfort, they also enhance circulation and help prevent problems with pressure and posture. Choices include:

  • Air Cushions: Filled with air, they are lightweight, relatively low cost and may help prevent pressure sores.
  • Foam Cushions: Lightweight and low cost, they are not as effective in preventing pressure sores.
  • Gel Cushions: Heavy, can be expensive. They are excellent at preventing pressure sores. Cloth covers make them more comfortable.
  • Fleece Cushions: Lightweight, comfortable. Not much help in preventing pressure sores or in posture support.

Arm Rests: Both styles listed below may be fixed, meaning they are permanently attached, or flexible, meaning that they may be removed or swing away. Arms that swing away facilitate moving closer to a table or desk. Removable arms facilitate side transfers.


  • Full length arms provide good support for arms, but may encumber ability to wheel close to a table or desk unless they swing away or are removable.
  • Desk arms are shorter so you can pull closer to tables and desks.

Foot Rests

  • Swing Away: Foot rests swing out of the way for easily getting in and out of the chair.
  • Elevated Leg Rests: Either or both leg rests may be elevated if medical condition requires it.


  • Molded Mag: Solid wheels are easier to clean and require much less maintenance.
  • Spoked Wheels: Much lighter, but must be tightened and aligned periodically.


  • Polymer: Solid tires. Provide excellent mobility, long wearing and low maintenance.
  • Air-Filled (Pneumatic): Cushioned ride with good traction. Better for outdoor use. Requires some maintenance. "No-Flat" tires are available.
  • Hand Rims: These are mounted outside the large wheels and used to propel the chair.
  • Smooth Surface: Easy on hands, but more difficult if grip is weak.
  • Fluted Edges: Provides added grip but not as comfortable as a smooth surface unless hand fits indentations perfectly.
  • Hand Rim Knobs: Knobs or projections can be placed on the outside of the Hand Rim to give adding gripping power.

Other Options: There are other options and accessories you may need or want to consider:

  • Anti-Tip Bars: Bars mounted on the lower portion of the chair, in front or back or both, to prevent tipping over.
  • Grade Lock: Mechanism that prevents you from rolling backwards when going up a ramp or other grade.
  • Special Features : Chairs can generally be modified for your specific needs, such as linking wheels so the chair can be guided and propelled with one hand, or shifting the center of gravity to compensate to balance the chair for someone who has lost one or both legs.
  • Bags, Pockets, or Pouches: In all sizes and shapes to carry your belongings.
  • Transfer Boards: Plastic or wooden boards to help you slide from the chair to another surface or into the tub.
  • Trays and Lapboards: Clip or snap-on flat surfaces to function as table or desk.
  • Safety or Lap Belts: To help keep you in the chair and prevent sliding or slumping.
  • Cane or Crutch Holder: Clamps to hold walking aids while in the chair.
  • Clothing Guards: Protects clothing and hands from rear wheels.

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