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How To Buy A Wheelchair

Posted by Mike Phipps on December 10, 2018

A lady sitting in a wheelchair

This article was updated on 22/04/2024.

There are many different types of wheelchairs available for various needs which can help the user maintain independence and allow them to travel easily. A wheelchair can offer an easy way to get around for someone with limited mobility or unable to walk. With the various styles available, the different options need to be considered to best suit the lifestyle of the user.

What types of wheelchairs are there?

Some wheelchairs are specially designed for people who have complex requirements or users who spend long periods of time in the chair. If you are looking for a chair for specialist needs, speak to your OT, doctor or social services who will be able to assess and recommend a type of chair that will be suitable.

Most wheelchair users have theirs supplier by the NHS wheelchair service however it is possible to buy a wheelchair or hire them if you are looking for something different or for use temporarily. 

Things to consider before buying a wheelchair -

  • Your own body weight and size
  • Your strength and ability
  • How far you need to travel
  • How often it will be used
  • Where it will be used

Self-propelled or attendant propelled wheelchairs

Manual wheelchairs like self-propelled or attendant are mostly suited for people who require a wheelchair most or all of the time for mobility and walking is possible but only for short periods of time. If you have adequate upper body strength and intend to propel yourself in the chair, a self-propelled wheelchair (the ones with the bigger rear wheels) would be best suited to you. The large back wheels each have an outer “push-rim” which allow you to control and turn the chair.  If you’re unable to propel yourself, an attendant controlled wheelchair or even transit chair would be the better option. These have smaller rear wheels which are easy to manoeuvre for the person pushing.  A self-propelled wheelchair can offer more independence as you are in control, however, manual wheelchairs and transit chairs are ideal for anyone who has supported living from a carer and needs assistance while getting about.

Two wheelchairs

Electric wheelchair/Powerchair

An electric wheelchair or powerchair is ideal if you don’t have the strength or stamina for a self-propelled chair but do not wish to rely on being pushed in a manual or transit chair. They are also suitable for longer journeys. You can opt between indoor use, outdoor use or both. If you have a manual wheelchair, but sometimes require the boost of a powerchair - a powerstroller is an affordable upgrade to a standard wheelchair allowing you to remote control it.

Various wheelchairs on a white background


Choosing a wheelchair or powerchair can be tricky if you are unsure what you are looking for, if the chair is needed to suit a certain condition or need to be adapted, its always best to seek professional advice from an OT or doctor.

Accessories & Clothing

There are many additional extras that you can combine with a wheelchair or powerchair to make it more comfortable and suitable such as cushions, gloves, drink holders, bags and much more.

Various wheelchair accessories

Accessories are important for wheelchair users as they offer storage solutions, safety and protection. There are hundreds of styles of bags that are designed for wheelchairs from backpacks, pannier, crutch bags and pouches. Safety is important and a wheelchair seat belt helps to keep the user secure in the seat. You can even protect against the weather with a handy wheelchair umbrella which attaches to the handles to provide protection from the rain. A drinks holder is a great way to keep a bottle or cup in reaching distance.

various wheelchair accessories

Comfort in a wheelchair is vital, especially if the user is spending long periods of time sitting. Cushions and backrests can help to relieve pressure and create a padded seat, which is even more important in colder months to stay warm. Gloves are perfect for self-propelled users to protect your hands against the elements and providing extra grip on the push-rims. Cosies and hand muffs are a great way to keep arms and legs warm and dry and are ideal for manual wheelchair users in particular.

Once you understand the options that are available, it is easier to make a decision on which wheelchair will be suitable. Always make sure that your chosen chair meets all the requirements so the user sits with the correct posture in the chair and it can be used in the way it is needed, whether self-propelling, attendant controlled or electrically assisted.  Proper posture and correct fitting in a wheelchair is important for even distribution or pressure, maintaining comfort, reducing stress on the body and improves manoeuvrability .

How to ensure proper posture and fitting for a wheelchair:

  • Stabilise the pelvis - ensure the wheelchair seat supports the pelvis. Make sure the depth of the seat allows you to sit all the way back, with your weight spread evenly through buttocks and thighs. A seat with the correct width will stop your pelvis sliding and altering your spine position.
  • Support the spine - your spine has 3 natural curves, like an ‘S’, which is the most stable position for your back. Sit upright, bring the shoulders back and ensure there is no slumping or leaning to ensure these curves are fully supported. Ensuring the back height and width of the chair are suitable support for the user is essential, cushions and further posture support may need to be added if a good posture position is unable to be maintained.
  • Centralise the head - Your head should sit upright and in the middle, with your chin slightly tucked and with enough stability to be able to look in different directions. If this position cannot be maintained, head and neck supports may be needed to avoid any long term damage or discomfort to the neck and head.
  • Support your feet and arms - Ensure the armrests are at the correct height to support your arms, keep your shoulders level while maintaining the natural curve of your neck. As your feet support some of your weight, insufficient support can pull your body out of alignment and cause discomfort and bad posture. Check the footplates are at the correct height which should place your hips and knees at right angles and ensure that your weight is evenly distributed. Feet too far out will tilt the pelvis and cause slouching whereas too far back and they will tilt the pelvis the other way and alter the natural curves of your back.

    A correct fitting wheelchair can make all the difference when it comes to using and getting around in them. It’s important to maintain good posture, especially when sitting for extended periods as it will stop any long term damage occurring and prevent discomfort allowing you to receive the independence and efficiency you need from your wheelchair.


    Kate Makin, OT

    Kate Makin, Ability Superstore's Occupational Therapist

    Kate Makin qualified as an occupational therapist (OT) in 2001 with a BSc (Hons) in Occupational Therapy. She is a member of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT).

    As a registered occupational therapist (OT), Kate is a science degree-based, health and social care professional, taking a “whole person” approach to both physical and mental health and wellbeing. This enables individuals, of all ages, to achieve their full potential and lead as independent life as possible.

    Click here for Kate’s registration with the Health and Care Professions Council.

    Throughout her career, Kate has worked in many different clinical settings, in both the public and private sector. Kate has been running her own independent occupational therapist business since 2009. She is passionate about disability aids and adaptations, with a specialist interest in postural management and seating.

    As Ability Superstore’s resident OT, Kate is on hand to offer professional advice and answer any queries.