Different Types of Wheelchairs

Different Types of Wheelchairs Available (& Finding the Right Kind)

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As Wikipedia states: “A wheelchair is a chair with wheels, used when walking is difficult or impossible.” A simple explanation that succinctly gets the point across.

But, of course, not many people ask what a wheelchair is – we all know that. What people are asking is, what are the different types of wheelchairs available? What kind of wheelchair is right for my circumstances?

Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to these questions: There are tens if not hundreds of wheelchairs on the market, and every wheelchair user has their own needs and circumstances.

Despite these limitations – we want our readers to be as informed as possible about mobility products. That’s why we’ve created the following comprehensive (and visual!) guide to the major types of wheelchairs available, alongside examples.

We hope that our guide will help you in finding the best type of wheelchair to meet your own or your mobility-impaired loved one’s needs.

Types of Wheelchairs for…

Types of Wheelchairs for Seniors

For elderly people with limited strength, we tend to favor lightweight electric wheelchairs. With a motor, it is much easier to move around without using all your energy.

While electric wheelchairs can be bulky, there are a lot of great lightweight models for seniors available on the market! For example, the COYE Electric Wheelchair weighs just 28 lbs and folds in a snap. It zips around at a max speed of 3.7 mph with an 11-mile range. Also, It’s airline-approved. Ideal for those who need a lightweight, fast-folding, and travel-ready mobility solution.

COYE Electric Wheelchair (only 28lbs) Ultra Light Portable Folding...
  • ✔ COYE Super Lightweight Folding Electric Wheelchair has been nominated The...
  • ✔1 second folding, fast folding, can be easily placed in the trunk of various...
  • ✔ Stops smooth and super safely. 150W*2 Brushed Motors, Max 3.7 mph, can...

If you or your elderly loved one still has a lot of strength, the manual type of wheelchair might still be an appropriate option. Again, we think a light-weight, mobile, model is still the best choice for promoting independence.

One good example of a tremendous manual-type wheelchair for seniors is the Karman Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair, which has received hundreds of positive reviews from elderly people worldwide. It might be worth checking out.

Karman Healthcare 19.8 lbs Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair,...
  • Weighs only 19.8 lbs
  • Padded Seat and Back Upholstery
  • Fixed Rear Wheels with Ergonomic Handrim

Types of Wheelchairs for Sports

There are many types of wheelchairs for sports. Here we list a few, linked to our glossary featured below.

  1. Basketball Wheelchairs
  2. Tennis Wheelchairs
  3. Racing Wheelchairs
  4. General Sports Wheelchairs

Types of Wheelchairs for Paraplegics

For those paralyzed from the waist down, we would again suggest a standard manual or electric wheelchair, depending on your stamina and mobility.

Types of Wheelchairs for Veterans

Veterans are a very broad group of wheelchair users, with many different reasons for needing one. Therefore, the best type of wheelchair for veterans is a custom-built wheelchair to match their individual needs.

The number of veteran wheelchair users is significant enough that a number of non-profit organizations dedicated to providing support to veteran wheelchair users exist.

Given the many reasons why a veteran might require a wheelchair – it is hard to suggest a specific type of wheelchair best suitable for them. It is probably a better suggestion to see a doctor.

All Types of Wheelchairs (Alphabetical)

Active Wheelchairs

Active wheelchairs are designed to be versatile and adjustable to a busy and active lifestyle; therefore, they’re available in many varieties and types such as ultra-light, folding, rigid, and even sports active wheelchairs.

Active wheelchairs are most commonly manual wheelchairs, yet active electric wheelchairs do exist. Furthermore, the versatile design allows for any further customized modifications as well.

The price range of active wheelchairs varies depending on the type, design, and materials of the wheelchair. Often, manual type wheelchairs are more affordable than motorized active wheelchairs.

A good Active Wheelchair example is the Karman Ergonomic Wheelchair:

Editor's Pick!
Karman Healthcare Ergonomic Wheelchair Ergo Flight with Quick Release...
  • Weighs only 19.8 lbs
  • Padded Seat and Back Upholstery with AEGIS technology
  • Quick Release Rear Wheels

Airplane Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs that provide maneuverability in the limited spaces on airplanes are designed for users to allow for air travel as well. Being lightweight and foldable, these wheelchairs are useful for wheelchair users who often travel.

All Terrain Wheelchairs

All-Terrain Wheelchair

All terrain wheelchairs are the revolutionary next step in wheelchair development. These types of wheelchairs are adaptable to almost any terrain, sandy environments like beaches, off-road paths, and grass. A perfect choice for those with a spirit of adventure! 

These mini “land rovers” come in various sizes, colors, and customizations. There are manual all-terrain wheelchairs, but most of them are electric. 

But please be aware, all-terrain wheelchairs cost a small fortune, and their maintenance can add up too. That said, here’s an all-terrain wheelchair example perfect for the park:

Fold & Travel Lightweight Motorized Electric Power Wheelchair Scooter,...
  • AVIATION TRAVEL! FDA Approval, Convenient, Easy for the Aviation Travel. Apply...
  • LIGHT WEIGHT! Portable Electric Wheelchair use the aircraft grade aluminum alloy...
  • POWERFULL! More powerful and quiet brushless motors (500W) with bigger rear...

Basketball Wheelchairs

Basketball wheelchairs are exclusively designed and optimized for wheelchair basketball players. These wheelchairs are among the most premium priced wheelchairs and can cost a small fortune – $1,300 minimum!

There is no single universally standardized measurement for basketball wheelchairs and each one is adjusted, designed and customized separately for each individual.

One of the key reasons behind the high cost of basketball wheelchairs is the material used during their production and assembly. Hard and strong metals like Titanium are used and this costs a fair bit.

Example: Invacare Basketball Wheelchair

Beach Wheelchairs

Beach Wheelchair

An average wheelchair is difficult to maneuver on the sand, because the wheels of the chair are thin in design. This is why Beach wheelchairs are the ideal type for those who use a wheelchair yet love the sea and the beaches.

These wheelchairs are designed with wide tires to function in sandy environments and are available both in manual and electric forms.

However, the cons of this wheelchair include the high cost and the difficulty in transporting due to its excessive weight. Thankfully, there are many beaches in the USA where free beach wheelchairs are offered for hire!

Custom Made Wheelchairs

It is no wonder that not all wheelchairs will be the right fit for every individual, and there is no universally accepted measurement for them either! The sizes and requirements of people from region to region and overtime change.

Custom made wheelchairs or “made to measure wheelchairs” become a solution to this problem. The sizes of these types of wheelchairs are customizable according to the body type, body size, body weight and the special requirements of any individual.

The price of such custom-made wheelchairs will vary according to the material and technology used to make them. (i.e.: metal, rubber and leather used, how many wheels and the degree of automation in the wheelchair.)

If you want a custom wheelchair made, there are many companies out there that offer this service. One of our favorites is Sunrise Medical in California.

Electric, Motorized & Powered Wheelchairs

Electric Type of Wheelchair (Motorized Wheelchair)

Motorized and electric wheelchairs are excellent for those who lack the necessary upper body strength to maneuver a manual wheelchair.

Electric wheelchairs come with various features and the possibility of modifications according to any special requirements.

However, electric wheelchairs are unsuitable for wet environments and can be more expensive to maintain and repair than manual wheelchairs. Electric wheelchairs are among the most expensive medical equipment – but there are affordable options, such as the COYE Electric Wheelchair.

Other Types of Electric Wheelchairs

Mobility Scooters

Mobility scooters are arguably a type of electric wheelchair. However, they are configured more like motor scooters and more suitable for outdoor travel. Mobility scooters are also commonly known as power-operated vehicles/scooters or electric scooters.

Ergonomic Wheelchairs

Ergonomic Wheelchair

Ergonomic wheelchairs are exceptionally engineered to adapt to an array of requirements wheelchair users face in their daily lives and aim to reduce the efforts in operating and maneuvering a wheelchair.

The designs come with ultra-lightweight frames with a seat that comfortably relieves pressure from the user’s body.

Also, these wheelchairs are made from solid metals such as Titanium and aircraft-grade aluminum for maximum durability and lightweight.

Example

Karman Healthcare 19.8 lbs Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair,...
  • Weighs only 19.8 lbs
  • Padded Seat and Back Upholstery
  • Fixed Rear Wheels with Ergonomic Handrim

Folding Wheelchairs

Folding wheelchairs are designed to be stored in small places and are ideal for travel enthusiasts. The lightweight design and foldable feature provide real-time mobility for the user. It is easy to store foldable wheelchairs in the trunk of a car or even a cupboard.

Example: Karman Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair

Heavy-Duty and Bariatric Wheelchairs

Heavy-duty wheelchairs, or Bariatric wheelchairs, are designed to support weight capacities of as high as 700 pounds – solid enough to carry any individual.

Standard wheelchairs are designed only to accommodate weights of up to around 300 pounds, and heavy-duty wheelchairs make it easier for individuals with large body structures and consequences to use a wheelchair without any complications.

However, heavy-duty wheelchairs are not made out of lightweight metals such as alloy or titanium but generally from classic solid steel, making this wheelchair a bit heavier and difficult to transport.

Example

Medline Excel Extra-Wide Bariatric Wheelchair For Adults and Seniors...
  • COMFORTABLE DESIGN: This extra-wide bariatric wheelchair for seniors and adults...
  • REMOVABLE DESK-LENGTH ARMS: This heavy-duty wheelchair features removable...
  • SWING-AWAY FOOTRESTS: Simply swing the footrests to the side to facilitate...

Hemi Height Wheelchair

Hemi Height Wheelchair

Hemi height wheelchairs are designed to adjust the height for comfort and the user’s requirements.

Explicitly built on a dual axle frame to allow these height adjustments, Hemi height wheelchairs are suitable for a person of any height. They are especially ideal for individuals with a height below five (5) feet, making them suitable for minors and children.

Lightweight and Ultra Lightweight Wheelchairs

Lightweight Wheelchair

These wheelchairs are ideally designed for maximum mobility and portability. The lightweight and ultra-lightweight frames are supported by strong, light materials such as alloys and Titanium during production.

Usually, these wheelchairs come with foldable designs, which makes them easier for individuals with constant travel needs.

What must be noted about these super-light wheelchairs is that they can be relatively expensive due to their particular materials. Although a great example of an affordable option is the Featherweight 13.5 lbs. Wheelchair from 1800Wheelchair.

Manual Wheelchairs

Manual wheelchairs

Manual wheelchairs are the traditional, standard, non-motorized type of wheelchair. They do not use electricity to function, making them more durable and affordable than their automated electric counterparts.

In addition to this, as the manual wheelchair is less complicated than other types, they are easy to use and, maintain and repair. Maintenance costs are significantly lower than with non-manual wheelchairs.

Types of Manual Wheelchairs

Self-Propelled Manual Wheelchairs

Self-propelled manual wheelchairs have large wheels that users can reach to propel themselves forward and move around independently.

A good example is the previously mentioned Karman Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair.

Karman Healthcare 19.8 lbs Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair,...
  • Weighs only 19.8 lbs
  • Padded Seat and Back Upholstery
  • Fixed Rear Wheels with Ergonomic Handrim
Assisted Manual Wheelchairs

Assisted Manual Wheelchairs, otherwise known as Transport Wheelchairs, though similar to traditional wheelchairs, have a variety of differences. They are more lightweight and compact, and, most importantly, they are not designed for independent use. They require the assistance of a carer.

A good example is the Medline Lightweight Transport Wheelchair with Handbrakes:

Medline Lightweight Foldable Transport Wheelchair with Handbrakes and...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT AND DURABLE: Lightweight, 26 lb., folding transport chair for adults...
  • ENHANCED SAFETY FEATURES: Easy-to-squeeze hand brakes and rear-wheel manual...
  • COMFORTABLE WITH EASY IN/OUT: Full-length cushioned armrests for comfort;...

Narrow Wheelchairs

Narrow wheelchairs are a type of wheelchair specifically designed to be operated in closed space tight environments, which makes them an ideal solution for a person living in a small home or apartment.

The narrowest wheelchairs span from eighteen inches (18) to twenty-two (22) inches and are usually manually propelled.

Moreover, these wheelchairs are light in their design and easy to be transported during traveling.

Example

Drive Medical Cruiser III Light Weight Wheelchair with Flip Back...
  • Lightweight Folding Wheelchair: Full-featured wheelchair for adults folds to...
  • Easy to Maneuver: Easy to push with Mag-style wheels, this lightweight...
  • Highly Adjustable: Wheelchair’s seat extends two extra inches; 8-inch casters...

Pediatric Wheelchairs

Pediatric Wheelchair

There are a wide variety of pediatric wheelchairs available exclusively for children.

As these types of wheelchairs are for kids, they are often quite small and novel in appearance. These wheelchairs come in both manual and electric models with ultra-light designs.

Most pediatric wheelchairs are adjustable, for example, the seat height can be raised as a child grows older.

Example

Medline Pediatric Wheelchair for Children - Promoting Comfort and...
  • COMFORTABLE AND DURABLE: This lightweight wheelchair for kids features...
  • SAFE AND RELIABLE: This pediatric folding wheelchair is built with a sturdy...
  • ENHANCED CONTROL: The lightweight construction and treaded, flat-free wheels and...

Racing Wheelchairs

Racing wheelchairs are built for speed and to withstand high velocities in shorter distances. On average, a wheelchair racer could go as fast as 30 kilometers per hour!

Racing wheelchairs are available both for track and road racing and come in the shape of a triangular “Go-Kart”-style chair with three wheels, especially suitable for riding on a straight track.

Recliner Wheelchairs

Recliner wheelchairs

Recliner wheelchairs are not so different from tilt wheelchairs. Still, the Recliner wheelchairs are designed specially to accommodate individuals with hip extension issues and other hip area-related injuries rather than spinal injuries.

However, this does not limit or prevent any other individual from using this type of wheelchair.

Reclining wheelchairs often come in both power-driven and self-propelled versions and are made for durability and the comfort of the user. However, they are not as light weight as standard wheelchairs and are difficult to maneuver and store in tight spaces.

Example: Drive Medical Reclining Wheelchair

Rigid Frame Wheelchairs

Rigid Frame Wheelchair

Rigid frame wheelchairs provide a generally non-foldable, strong and light-weight frame suitable for full-time wheelchair users. However, as rigid frames typically cannot be folded, transportation and travel are not this types of wheelchairs’ strong suit.

Despite this, the durable and simplistic Rigid Frame design makes them affordable and longer-lasting than many other varieties of wheelchairs.

Example: Karma White Frame Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair

Shower Commode Wheelchairs

Shower Commode Wheelchair

Perhaps one of the most challenging situations for a mobility-impaired person is during the time in the bathroom. It is as dangerous just as much as it is challenging to operate in a tight-spaced wet environment.

Bathrooms and shower cubicles are among the top places in any house that serious accidents and falls happen.

Shower Commode Wheelchairs make these issues trivial with their easy to use and comfortable builds. The water-proof design with stainless steel makes it easier for the user to operate safely in wet surroundings.

Examples

Single-Arm Wheelchair

Single-arm wheelchairs are specially designed wheelchairs that allow users to single-handedly propel the chair. This is achieved through a clever mechanism that propels both wheels in the chair when a single wheel is rotated.

Example: Karman Healthcare

Smart Wheelchairs

Perhaps the most technologically advanced and the expensive type of wheelchair there is. The new generation Smart Wheelchairs (PDF) even feature artificial intelligence to minimize the user’s human effort. In the near future, Smart Wheelchairs that can aid in movement will also be available.

These wheelchairs are fully automated and often have a built-in obstacle detection system to avoid collisions.

Sports Wheelchairs

Sports Wheelchair

Types of Sports Wheelchairs

Being mobility impaired or disabled does not mean you have to avoid all the fun and the active lifestyle of sports. Sports wheelchairs are specifically designed for athletes and individuals who have a passion for sports.

Most sports wheelchairs are made using ultra-lightweight metal, productive ergonomics and next-generation technology for moving fast. The wheels are adjustable and can withstand high rates of speed and pressure.

The different types of sports that have specific types of wheelchairs include:

  1. Basketball Wheelchairs
  2. Tennis Wheelchairs
  3. Racing Wheelchairs

Standing Wheelchair

Standing Wheelchair

Standing wheelchairs were developed and came in to use mainly because of the health risks the wheelchair users were facing due to the prolonged sitting in a chair.

Over time, this can lead to the stiffening of the joints and muscles in the back area and legs. Also, long term sitting can lead to issues with the ankles, hips, and knees as well.

A standing wheelchair is just like any other wheelchair the user can sit on, though its mechanism allows the upper body of the wheelchair to be raised into an upward standing position.

These wheelchairs are available both in manual form, where the user has to manually propel the wheelchairs or motor-driven, where electricity and power are used to propel the wheelchair.

Standing wheelchairs can be quite expensive! Especially powered models, that can cost up to ten thousand dollars.

One great standing wheelchair is the Karman XO-505 Fully Powered Standing Wheelchair:

No products found.

Tennis Wheelchairs

Tennis Wheelchair

Specially designed and improved for Tennis, Tennis wheelchairs have a light weight, easily maneuverable frame design that allows the players to move rapidly and change positions.

These wheelchairs are high in price as well, making it difficult to afford for someone with a moderate budget, yet they are made to last long and perform under tight and tough conditions.

In addition, these wheelchairs can be adjusted to work on grass courts and clay courts, making them much easier for players to adapt to the different forms of the game.

The high price of this type of wheelchair is mainly because of the material used, and the customizing options available.

Just like any other sports related wheelchair, tennis wheelchairs are made specifically for the requirements of each individual player.

Example: SportAid Wheelchair Tennis Chair

Tilt Wheelchairs

Tilt wheelchairs are a type that allows the user to tilt or to adjust the back stand of the wheelchair to any angle that is comfortable to them. This is often up to 30 degrees of 60 degrees depending on the model of the wheelchair.

Tilt wheelchairs are available in both manual and electric powered models and are made of strong steel and alloys, heavy but durable.

However, these wheelchairs are not optimized for portability, as they lack the ability to be folded and are usually difficult to be stored in or maneuvered around tight and confined spaces.

Example

Editor's Pick!
Karman Healthcare VIP-515-TP-18 Foldable Tilt in Space Space Reclining...
  • The seat height is 20 inches
  • Weight Capacity of 250 lbs.

Transport Wheelchairs

Transport Wheelchair

Transport wheelchairs are designed to be pushed by another person and not designed for self-propulsion. Unlike the standard, regular wheelchair, transport wheelchairs do not typically have two large wheels and instead have four smaller wheels.

Transport wheelchairs are designed for temporary usage and not for a permanent user. Ideally, its for people who can walk yet gets tired quickly or to people who find it difficult to walk long distances.

Furthermore, transport wheelchairs can be folded easily and stored in small and tight spaces. As they do not have the large, heavy wheels, transport wheelchairs are much lighter and portable than their standard counterpart.

An example of a transport wheelchair is the previously featured Medline Transport Wheelchair:

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Margaret Sellars
Margaret Sellars
Occupational Therapist Margaret Sellars contributes to Mobility Deck as an expert on mobility products like wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Newly retired, Margaret spends her spare time doing freelance writing from the comfort of her home in Maine. Given her extensive knowledge and professional background, Margaret does the vast majority of the writing for Mobility Deck - so if you have non-tech related questions, she's the one to ask!
Margaret Sellars
Margaret Sellars
Occupational Therapist Margaret Sellars contributes to Mobility Deck as an expert on mobility products like wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Newly retired, Margaret spends her spare time doing freelance writing from the comfort of her home in Maine. Given her extensive knowledge and professional background, Margaret does the vast majority of the writing for Mobility Deck - so if you have non-tech related questions, she's the one to ask!

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We at Mobility Deck™ are dedicated to offering expert, researched information and advice on mobility products like wheelchairs, walkers, and accessories.

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