Manual or Electric, Not Just a Question for Tim Taylor

For those wheelchairs, often one of the most important decisions is whether to choose a manual wheelchair or an electric wheelchair. There are a number of factors that go into this decision and it is important to spend some time considering what type of wheelchair will best fit the needs of the wheelchair user.

A Brief Look at the Development and History of the Wheelchair

Wheelchairs have been around for thousands of years, albeit in a much less standard design than what we are used to today. Early wheelchairs were often custom made and during the middle ages, they were often a byproduct of the gratuitous lifestyle of nobility, who were able to afford to have a smith custom build a wheelchair. As time went on, several designs would come and go. Prior to the metal tubed lightweight foldable wheelchair common today, a wicker wheelchair became popular. These had a very high back and three wheels, with two on either side and one in back for support. While these kinds of wheelchairs were very popular and common during the turn of the twentieth century and even up until the 1940′s, the wicker wheelchair left a lot to be desired, because it could not be easily self propelled.

Today, a great deal of thought and design has gone into the manual wheelchair, making it very efficient and lightweight. Electric wheelchairs are also very common and include an electric motor and rechargeable battery to quickly and easily move an individual across many types of terrain.

Choosing the Right Wheelchair

Choosing between an electric wheelchair and manual wheelchair should not be a decision that is taken lightly and there are in fact a number of things that must be taken into consideration.

The Abilities of the Wheelchair User

One of the most important things to consider when deciding between a manual wheelchair or an electric wheelchair is how well an individual will be able to use a manual wheelchair.

Due to disease, illness, or injury, it may not be possible to use a manual wheelchair, because using a manual wheelchair can be very strenuous. As a result, in many cases, due to the physical abilities or the wheelchair user, using a manual wheelchair may simply be out of the equation. In these cases an electric wheelchair may be a better choice and there are a number of alternate control systems available that make using a wheelchair much easier, such as allowing the user to control it with head.

However, many people enjoy manual wheelchairs for just this reason and enjoy the physical effort required to use it. There are many wheelchair sports that are becoming increasingly popular, such as wheelchair racing and wheelchair rugby. So, for a number of wheelchair users, the physical effort required to use a manual wheelchair is looked on as a benefit. Manual wheelchairs are also much more responsive, in that the wheelchair user ultimately has a great deal more control over the wheelchair, which is a big benefit for many, just as many people prefer manual vehicles over automatics.

Where the Wheelchair Will Be Used

The place and location that the wheelchair will primarily be used is also an important thing to think about. If the wheelchair is going to be primarily used in the home, then using a manual wheelchair will require a great deal less effort than if it were to be a mode of transportation across a college campus. If on the other hand, the wheelchair will be used away from home, an electric wheelchair, which often has a per-charge range of over 15 miles, might be a much more efficient and practical choice.

Determining how and where the wheelchair will be used is important. It is also important to consider how the wheelchair will be transported though, because a manual wheelchair can be folded up and placed in the back seat of a car or the trunk with little problem. Transporting an electric wheelchair is not usually as easy and typically requires a vehicle wheelchair lift.

The Cost of the Wheelchair and Wheelchair Accessories

As is usually the case, it is also important to consider cost when deciding whether to use a manual wheelchair or an electric wheelchair. If it is possible to get a Medicaid Wheelchair or a Medicare wheelchair, then the cost of the wheelchair will be greatly reduced, with the insured usually only responsible for 20% of the cost.

However, if insurance is not an option, than an electric wheelchair can be very expensive, at least in comparison to a manual wheelchair. Even a top end manual wheelchair is usually much less expensive than a power chair, so it is important to consider your budget.

When considering cost, it is also important to consider operating cost, as a power chair will require periodic replacement batteries, usually once every 12 to 18 months, depending on use. Power chairs also usually require a vehicle wheelchair lift to make transportation easier, so if it will be used away from home, this could be an additional cost. It may also be necessary to install a wheelchair lift or a wheelchair ramp at home, which in reality is probably needed for both power chairs and manual wheelchairs, although it is most assuredly needed to move a power chair into and out of the house, as electric wheelchairs are much heavier than manual wheelchairs.