Manual vs Electric Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs provide a powerful tool for those who have difficulty walking, such as seniors with arthritis, or those who are otherwise mobility challenged. While there are a great number of different types of wheelchairs, the two basic categories are electric or manual. There are a number of factors, with cost often being one of the more pressing ones, which go into determining which type of wheelchair to use.

Manual Wheelchairs

Manual wheelchairs are usually the least expensive type of wheelchair, although there are a number of different models and some of the more specialized ones are quite pricey.

The manual wheelchair design dates back to a wheelchair first developed during the first part of the twentieth century. They feature a hollow steel tube frame, which provides strength, while still being lightweight, as well as large side wheels.

Typically, the wheels are designed so that they can be used to propel the wheelchair and include handrails that extend around the rim of the wheel. However, this is not always the case, as some manual wheelchairs, most often referred to as transport chairs, are designed to be pushed from behind. These chairs are often used by caregivers for seniors who have arthritis, as they are unable to propel the wheelchair on their own.

In addition to offering a lightweight frame, the steel tube design usually also allow the wheelchair to be folded up. The type of seat present will often determine if the wheelchair is intended to be a folding manual wheelchair or a rigid one, as those with a thin vinyl seat can almost always be folded, while those with a more rigid cushion seat are sometimes designed to be non-folding. However, a non-folding manual wheelchair is the exception and not the rule.

In addition to the standard wheelchairs most people have come to expect to see at places like the hospital or amusement parks, a number of more advanced sports wheelchairs are also available, which are used to do things like play wheelchair basketball or racing.

Electric Wheelchairs

Electric wheelchairs are usually much more expensive than a standard self-propelled wheelchair and come in a number of designs and styles. The needs of the patient often plays a factor in what type of wheelchair is needed, which can affect the cost.

While there are a number of different styles available, most share a similar design, with a plastic base, which houses the electric motor and wheel-base, with a chair on top. Unlike manual wheelchairs, in most cases the chair closely resembles an office chair, although typically with more cushion and a higher back.

The wheel-base is either four wheels or six-wheels, which is the design used in a mid-wheel drive wheelchair system. The advantage of a mid-wheel design is that it provides much more maneuverability, at the sacrifice of a little stability. The drive wheels are the middle set, while the sets at the front and back merely provide support for the user.

The wheelchair itself is controlled by a hand control, which is usually found in the arm-rest of the chair. Most utilize a joystick control, which is based off on of the earliest electric wheelchair designs that dates back over 50 years. However, for those who are unable to use their hands, a number of alternative control devices are available, like breath operated wheelchairs, in addition to available controls for care workers.