How to Purchase the Right Wheelchair

June 14, 2023
Guide to buy a wheelchair

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Whether you are purchasing a wheelchair for your facility, a specific patient or resident need, or yourself, finding the perfect wheelchair can be a challenge. Every wheelchair user has different needs and may require additional features, from a manual wheelchair to an electric power wheelchair. 

A properly fitting wheelchair can improve posture, reduce the risk of pressure injuries, and increase comfort and safety. Follow these three simple steps when purchasing a wheelchair to ensure a proper fit. 

1. Take measurements:

Making the right decision when it comes to purchasing a wheelchair is critical. Taking measurements before you buy is vital to ensuring a perfect fit. This helps to ensure you get the most comfortable and supportive experience from your wheelchair. 

  • Back height: primarily affects comfort. Proper back height is measured from the collarbone down to the seat.
  • Front seat height: affects driving efficiency and safety. The seat height should be low enough for the user to reach the floor with their heels. 
  • Seat width: affects sitting comfortability. The seat width is typically measured at the hips or thighs, whichever is wider. Depending on arm positioning or other accessories added, additional width may be required.
  • Seat depth: affects weight distribution and prevents the edge of the seat from rubbing against the back of the knees.

2. Choose a wheelchair type

Decide whether a manual or electric wheelchair is most appropriate based on your specific needs.  

Manual wheelchairs require the user to manually push or self-propel for movement. These wheelchairs feature handles on the back for pushing if needed. Types of manual wheelchairs include lightweight wheelchairs, transport wheelchairs, standard wheelchairs, and bariatric wheelchairs.

Electric wheelchairs are a good choice for those with limited mobility or strength. The most user-friendly electric wheelchairs come with intuitive controls, such as joystick-based steering. This makes them easy to operate for many users. 

Standard wheelchairs with larger rear wheels are ideal for users who can propel themselves. Features can include removable arms, adjustable seats or wheels, and swinging or elevating leg rests to accommodate different body types and sizes.   

Lightweight wheelchairs are typically more affordable and ideal for wheelchair users needing to move around frequently. Some lightweight wheelchairs feature a portable folding design, making it easier to store where desired. 

Transport chairs are best suited for those who need to be pushed and don’t use a wheelchair often. They are usually lightweight, foldable, easy to maneuver, and typically have small wheels in the front and back. 

Additionally, most wheelchairs are designed with weight capacity limits. Make sure the wheelchair you choose can safely support the user’s weight. For larger users, consider a bariatric wheelchair. They are constructed using reinforced materials and feature wider or extra-wide seats, deeper seat depths, and adjustable footrests. 

3. Don't Forget Wheelchair Cushions and Accessories

Cushions are essential for better pressure management and sitting tolerances. Similar to choosing a wheelchair, your specific needs will determine how to select the proper cushion. 

Premium gel cushions provide maximum skin protection and shear. “Slow recovery” T-Foam™ cushions are best for optimal pressure redistribution, and the open-cell structure helps prevent heat buildup. Air cell cushions also help protect patients from pressure and skin-related injuries for those with fragile skin. Learn more about how to choose a wheelchair cushion and optimal wheelchair positioning

Lastly, consider adding wheelchair accessories such as lap trays, cup holders, mobile device mounts, storage bins, arm trays, wheelchair gloves, rim and spoke covers, and anti-tippers. With the right accessories in place, users can enjoy even greater independence in their wheelchairs. 

Successfully choosing the right wheelchair involves properly taking measurements, deciding on the right chair type, and including cushions and accessories that ensure comfort and convenience. Whether you decide on a lightweight wheelchair, transport chair, standard wheelchair, or bariatric wheelchair, an optimal-fitting wheelchair will help users with support and maneuverability while significantly improving their quality of life and overall independence.  


AliMed, Inc. is a manufacturer and distributor of medical supply products, and is not a medical authority. The contents contained in this article, including text, graphics, imagery, and other materials, are for informational and educational purposes only. AliMed does not provide or intend to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and the information contained here should not be treated as such. If you have questions about a specific medical condition or specific personal use of a medical device, always consult your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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