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What is a Standard Wheelchair?

By T. Carrier
Updated May 17, 2024
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Wheelchairs fall into two basic categories: standard wheelchairs and electric wheelchairs. While an electric wheelchair is powered by a motor, a standard wheelchair is powered by a person, whether it's propelled by the user or pushed from behind by a second person. Standard wheelchairs also typically can fold, making storage and transportation less difficult. Other common characteristics of standard wheelchairs are large back wheels, an overall weight of more than 30 pounds (13.6 kg), and a weight capacity for the wheelchair occupant of 250 pounds (113.4 kg).

A person who regularly uses a standard wheelchair should become familiar with wheelchair supplies and parts, because these components require routine maintenance. The chair’s base material can be composed of titanium, aluminum, or steel. A special type of frame gives the chair its folding capability.

Arm rests and footrests are also common fixtures of a standard wheelchair. Footrests typically have mechanisms that allow them to swing away from the front of the wheelchair when the occupant removes himself or herself from the seat. In addition, the standard wheelchair has a relatively comfortable back rest and seat, both of which are usually made of vinyl or nylon. Handles protrude from the seat so another person may push the chair from behind. Many types of wheelchair accessories can be attached to a standard wheelchair, including cushions, bags, tables, holders, umbrellas, and even fishing poles.

A unique feature of the standard wheelchair is its wheel size. The chair is fitted with two large back wheels of roughly 20 inches to 26 inches (51 cm to 68 cm). Occupants can direct the wheels’ motion with push rims that attach to the wheels. Two smaller front wheels, known as castors, also allow the user greater manual maneuverability, as do wheel locks that serve as brakes.

People may consider using standard wheelchairs for several reasons, including the relatively low cost. Compared to their electric counterparts, standard wheelchairs are made of heavier material, are more durable, and their folding capabilities make standard wheelchairs easily transportable. The large rear wheels also allow easier outside navigation. Finally, the chair’s man-powered nature necessitates more physical activity and, thus, greater exercise on the part of the user. This can also be a drawback, though, because standard wheelchairs may be impractical for users with limited upper body mobility or general physical weakness.

Wheelchair selection is an important process for people who need them and their families. Most users need a long-term medical wheelchair, so understanding the different types of wheelchairs available is crucial. Any wheelchair acquisition should be preceded by consultation with a certified health professional, such as a physical or occupational therapist.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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