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Manual wheelchair guide

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Before you buy a wheelchair, consider the points listed below:

  • It is advisable to discuss your mobility needs with a healthcare professional. If you are at risk of falls please contact your GP to request a referral to the community team for an assessment at home for advice or equipment.
  • Wheelchairs can be hired from the Red Cross 0845 331 3331
  • Consider if you can get the wheelchair in and out of your home
  • If you plan to use a self-propelling wheelchair with large wheels, consider if you have the strength and general health to manoeuvre the chair for the distances and terrain/gradient required and that the wider self-propelling wheels fit through doorways and corridors
  • If you plan to use an attendant-propelled wheelchair check you have a carer or companion who can propel the wheelchair with your weight for the distances and terrain/gradient that you require and that it will fit through doors and corridors, can they operate the brakes and are the handles at a convenient height for them
  • Standard wheelchairs are not supportive enough to sit in all day
  • Check the wheelchair is the right size and weight limit for you. The seat depth should support buttocks and thighs to the back of your knee with back supported by the backrest. The seat should be wide enough to sit with a small gap each side for comfort and to allow space for outdoor clothing. If the size is wrong it may cause skin damage
  • Your feet should be supported on the footrests with ankles, knees and hips at 90° and footplates should always be in place when using the chair and must be folded back for transfers. Discuss safe transfers in and out of the chair with relative, carer or a healthcare professional
  • The armrests should support your forearms comfortably when seated, and be long enough and sturdy enough to assist with transfers if required. Swing away or shorter armrests are available
  • If you add a cushion on top of the standard seat this will affect the height of armrests, position of footplates and level of back support. Some wheelchairs have integral seat padding
  • Backrests can be upright or reclining and can be padded or have extra support
  • Consider storage and transport if required. A wheelchair that folds, has removable parts, or is lighter might be easier to fit in a car
  • There are over 200 manual wheelchairs on the market, so it is important to shop around