Top Features to Consider When Selecting a Wheelchair


This guide will provide you with details of top features to consider when selecting a wheelchair. Technology is evolving and new features for wheelchairs are being created every day. If you are in the process of choosing a new wheelchair or you are a first time wheelchair user, there are plenty of features that you will find beneficial depending on your needs. The electric wheelchair is most commonly known as one of the best technological inventions and most important inventions today for people with disabilities. It allows the user to become independent and lessen the need for a caregiver. The following details are top features to consider when selecting a wheelchair.

Armrest Styles

Armrests are meant to give you support, rest your arms comfortable and also allow you to be able to pull yourself up when adjusting your seating position or when transferring. There are a variety of arm rests to choose from that will help make your wheelchair meet your needs.

  • Desk Length – This style armrest allows you to fit comfortable under a table or desk. In addition you can adjust the height and have arm support from the back of the chair to about three-fourths of the seat.
  • Full Length Armrests – These armrests support your arms from the back to the front of the seat and they have a fixed height. This also applies to fixed and removable armrests.
  • Swing Away Armrests – This type of armrest is perfect for easy transfers since the armrest swings back behind the chair and to the side.
  • Tubular – This armrest is padded for comfort and flips down or curves downward for convenience.
  • Space Saver Arm – This armrest allows you to bring it closer to the body with due to its inward curve.

Footrests and Legrests

It is not only uncomfortable to allow your legs to dangle from your chair but it is not safe either. You want to choose supportive footrests so that you are comfortable, safe and receiving full support from your wheelchair. If you prefer or require to rest your legs in a straight out position there are also legrests that will help you achieve your desired comfortable position. The following details will help you choose which feature is best for your needs.

  • Footrests – There are a variety of styles to choose from that support your feet and make you feel more comfortable. Most footrests are swingaway and removable in order to make transfers easy.
  • Footplates – Most footplates are made with plastic composite material or aluminum. They are used to support the heel to the ball of the foot. There are angle adjustable footplates that provide you with two or three adjustment options and are generally longer in order to support your entire foot. If you need to have a larger full width platform for your feet try a footboard. Sports chairs are the most common type of wheelchair that may require a footboard, depending on the user.
  • Legrests – Legrests are usually common on tilting and relining wheelchairs. It is a great option if you need to elevate your feet. Articulating legrests solves the problems of the footplate length and allows the footplate distance to increase when elevated and shortened when lowered.

Electric Wheelchair Drive Controls

Electric wheelchairs are convenient and allow you to drive it in any direction you wish. The joystick or controller is required to achieve independence and control of your wheelchair. There are several wheelchair drive controls to choose from. The following list will help you determine which one is best suited for your needs and will allow you to achieve your independence.

  • Conventional Joystick – This type of joystick has an on and off switch, speed control, battery gauge and a gimbal knob. You will easily drive and control your electric wheelchair by pushing the gimbal in the direction you wish. You are also able to control the speed of the chair using the same technique but holding the gimbal in place longer.
  • Compact Joystick – This joystick is also referred to as a chin controlled joystick. Usually this controller is mounted on a swingway mount that allows you to control your electric wheelchair the same as the conventional joystick. For added comfort you can replace the gimbal with a small cup shaped piece depending on your needs.
  • Finger Control – This electric wheelchair controller allows you to drive your wheelchair by using just one finger. The finger controller is a square box with a small hole in the top and is capable of being mounted anywhere you can comfortably reach. It uses the same principle as the conventional joystick, but instead you use your finger in place of the gimbal.
  • Head Control – This controller allows you to drive your wheelchair by using your head. The controller is usually mounted behind your head and attached to the headrest. You use your head to direct the gimbal in the direction that you wish.
  • Touchpad Control – This electric wheelchair controller is by the touch of a finger. It is different compared to the finger controller because it has a touch screen. The touch pad drives the wheelchair as you guide it in any direction that you wish.
  • Sip and Puff Drive Control – This electric wheelchair controller makes life easier and provides independence for those that are not able to use their hands, head or fingers to drive their wheelchair. This is a non-proportional drive that you may need to practice before perfecting your technique. You puff air into a tube or sip on the tube like you would when drinking through a straw. The strength of your sip or puff signifies a variety of things that guides your chair to adhere to your commands.
  • Wafer Boards – This controller is designed to be used on a wheelchair tray or your lap. It has a variety of switches that allows you to control your wheelchair by using the digital system. This controller is a great option if you are able to use your hands but are not able to maintain constant control that a joystick requires.
  • Proximity Switch Drive Control – This unique control option allows you to use any part of your body to control your electric wheelchair. You can choose to have them mounted or loose and placed anywhere on your wheelchair. A common place that many users like to have access to them is on the underside of the tray.

Aluminum Frames

Lightweight and durable, aluminum frames are widely available and becoming an increasingly popular choice among wheelchair users. Aluminum frames are best known for their light weight and their excellent rolling characteristics. Wheelchairs that are created with aluminum frames are commonly less expensive when compared to other wheelchair frame types.

Brushless Electric Motor

The brushless motor is also referred to as an electronically commutated motor. It is powered by an electric source through an integrated switching power supply. It results in producing an electrical signal to drive the motor. Brushless motors have advantages when compared to brushed motors. The advantages include reduced noise level, improved reliability, more torque per watt and per weight, plus a longer lifetime. 

Light Lithium Ion Battery

The lithium Ion battery travels up to 15 miles before requiring to be recharged. It allows you to have improved range and speed compared to other wheelchair batteries. The lithium Ion battery is light weight, has a low self discharge rate and provides double the range when compared to regular lead based batteries. Commonly the price is higher than other wheelchair batteries but it lasts twice as long. It is also approved for traveling on a variety of airlines and cruise lines. The Featherweight 33 lbs. Power Chair is the perfect example. It has a lithium battery and is a light weight electric wheelchair that is popular for its durability, tight turns, speed and ability to travel well.

Removable Seat and Seat Cover

Removable seats are one of the most popular accessories that wheelchair users cherish. It provides added comfort and stability. Most removable wheelchair seats are made from soft, durable materials such as memory foam, gel foam or convoluted foam. You can also purchase a seat cover that will protect the foam and allow you to easily remove the cover and wash it as frequently as you wish. There are a variety of covers on the market to choose from such as waterproof and vinyl. It is also a great way to add character to your wheelchair and expressing your personality by purchasing festive colored seat covers. Removable seats and seat covers are both practical and stylish.

Wheelchair Clothes Guards

This is a great feature to add to your wheelchair if you are tired of getting your clothes dirty due to contact with the wheelchair wheels or from dirt and sand splashing up onto you. Clothes guards are usually made from fiber, cloth or solid plastic and shaped like a quarter circle. It is placed between you and the rear wheels of your wheelchair. Although clothes guards are most commonly used on manual chairs, many electric wheelchair users find them beneficial especially on rainy days when water and mud tend to splash up from the side walk. In addition to protecting you and your clothes from dirt and debris it also aids in pelvic support. This beneficial feature is easy to fold and does not interfere with unfolding either.

Stand Up Option

This feature is on specific electric wheelchair models but it is becoming one of the most popular options for wheelchair users. This option features advanced seat functions, seat lift, enhanced steering performance and an advanced suspension system. This feature allows you to touch a button and transition from a seated position to a standing position. It gives you new opportunities and is fully drivable in the standing position. This is definitely technology at its best and a great feature to consider when choosing your new wheelchair.

Turning Radius Capability

Many wheelchair users become concerned with what type of turning ability a wheelchair can offer. Often times you may choose the perfect wheelchair that has all of the bells and whistles that you require, but it might lack in the turning ability that will help make your life easier. While some wheelchairs may offer a variety of special features the turning potential can be a deal breaker. The Move Lite Folding Power Chair is capable of providing you with a tight turning radius of 31.5 inches. This means you can maneuver with ease as you get into and out of areas that you may never have had access to before.

Hassle-Free Wheels

There are a variety of tires you can choose from that are specific for your new wheelchair. You may want to choose tires that are durable and possibly don’t require too much maintenance such as foam filled tires. These tires are filled with polyurethane and are puncture proof and hassle-free.

When making your decision to purchase a wheelchair you will want to carefully consider your needs. While manual wheelchairs are always trust worthy and affordable, it may require you to have a caretaker or upper arm strength in order to get around on your own. An electric wheelchair will provide you with independence, self confidence and benefits that manual wheelchairs are not able to offer. While some electric wheelchairs may seem costly, there are a few that are affordable. Choose a wheelchair that is a durable, lightweight that has many of the features you just learned about, including a Lithium Ion battery, a brushless motor, adjustable joystick and much more!

Always consider your needs and how your new wheelchair will be able to improve your lifestyle with a variety of excellent features. Since new inventions are becoming available every day, it is wise to shop around frequently when looking for new features to add to your wheelchair or when searching for a new wheelchair. Take into consideration the above top features when making your decision about what type of wheelchair to purchase.

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