Choosing the Right Wheelchair: Manual vs. Electric
Common issues such as old age and chronic pain can affect a person’s ability to accomplish everyday tasks, such as walking upstairs or getting around the house. In these scenarios, the use of a wheelchair or power wheelchair may be the logical next step to ensuring you can still maintain a high level of personal independence.
However, there is often some uncertainty when choosing between these two popular mobility options. You may find yourself asking: what are the main differences between manual wheelchairs and electric wheelchairs, and which one will work best for my lifestyle and needs?
Below, we offer insight into the wheelchair buying process – from answering a few frequently asked questions to highlighting the pros and cons of different types of wheelchairs and explaining how to determine which one is a better fit for you.
Is a Wheelchair the Right Option for You?
Let’s start at the top with one simple question: is purchasing a wheelchair the right decision for you?
Many people jump into the purchasing process before really considering what their mobility needs are. This can lead to them buying an assistive device that doesn’t meet the specific requirements of them or their loved ones.
It’s always a good idea to ask yourself a few key questions prior to deciding what type of mobility device you need:
- What are your current mobility restrictions and how are they affecting your ability to work and live as normal?
- How would a mobility device help you overcome these restrictions?
- Where will you primarily be using the mobility device – indoors, outdoors, or both?
- Do you plan to be transporting the device frequently in a car, train, or plane?
- Do you have the strength to use a self propelled device, or would a battery powered unit be more beneficial?
Asking yourself these questions will allow you to better understand your current challenges and what you hope to achieve with the new wheelchair or powerchair.
What Is a Manual Wheelchair?
Manual wheelchairs are a popular all-around choice for people with mobility issues, as they are foldable, lightweight, and easy to operate.
Wheelchairs are both durable and comfortable, and while many people think of them as a temporary mobility solution (usually when recovering from an illness or injury), it is very common for people to use a wheelchair as their primary means of personal transportation.
Manual wheelchairs have smaller front wheels and larger back wheels. This design allows the user to propel the wheelchair by grabbing the large rear wheels – which have outer rims to provide better grip – and pushing forward. However, manual wheelchairs can also be pushed by a caregiver when necessary.
- Lightweight and foldable
- Easy to use
What Is an Electric Wheelchair?
Electric wheelchairs run on rechargeable batteries, making them a good option for people who can’t propel a manual wheelchair themselves.
Also known as power wheelchairs, these devices offer additional benefits over other powered devices (such as mobility scooters), including a smaller wheelbase, tighter turning radius, and better head support.
The majority of electric wheelchairs are driven using a joystick or knob on the armrest. Some models even come equipped with intelligent technology that allows them to be controlled remotely using a smartphone. This makes them an excellent choice for users who have restricted motion or weakness in their upper bodies.
- Battery powered
- Tight turning radius
- Supportive and comfortable
- Disassembles (most models)
What are the Key Differences Between Manual Wheelchairs and Electric Wheelchairs?
The main difference between manual wheelchairs and power wheelchairs is how they are propelled. Wheelchairs either need to be pushed by a companion or self-propelled by the user, making them an ideal option for people who have pain or discomfort in their lower body but still have use of their hands, wrists, shoulders, and elbows.
Electric wheelchairs, on the other hand, can be driven by almost anybody, as they are powered by rechargeable electric batteries. This makes them the preferred choice for users with more severe mobility limitations.
|Manual Wheelchair||Electric Wheelchair|
|Power||Self Propelled||Rechargeable Batteries|
|Weight Capacity||250 to 500 lbs||250 to 600 lbs|
|Product Weight||15 to 70 lbs||60 to 350 lbs|
|Disassembles / Folds||Yes||Yes (depending on model)|
|Cost*||$100 to $1000||$1500 to $6500|
*These figures represent a general average. Individual models can cost more or less depending on the manufacturer, level of customization, and added features.
Wheelchair Rental Options
If you don’t need to use a wheelchair full-time, there are a number of great companies, such as Scootaround, who provide mobility rentals in cities across North America. Wheelchair rental services can be a great option for people who still have some mobility but have trouble walking long distances.
Rentals can be delivered directly to your residence, or to your hotel or cruise ship if you require a wheelchair while traveling.
Summary and Recommendations
In short, manual wheelchairs are ideal for users who have difficulty walking but still have mobility in their upper body. They are inexpensive, durable, and versatile.
Electric wheelchairs are a better option for users who are unable to propel a manual wheelchair, rollator, or walker themselves. Their tight turning radius also makes them a fantastic choice for small indoor spaces. While they are more expensive than standard wheelchairs, their added functionality and features are more than makeup for the price.
If you have a hard time walking on your own and feel you might benefit from a wheelchair, you should first discuss your mobility issues with your doctor.
The easiest way to get a new manual or electric wheelchair is to visit an online retailer, such as Scootaround, to browse all the mobility options that are available. Having a conversation with a product expert can be a great first step towards investing in a new wheelchair, especially if this will be your first mobility device purchase.
If online shopping isn’t for you, consider checking out a mobility store in your area. While the selection is often more limited than online retailers, a brick-and-mortar store will allow you to try the product yourself and speak with durable medical equipment (DME) professionals face-to-face.
Whatever route you decide to go, keep in mind the key differences between manual and electric wheelchairs. With this information in hand, you’ll be sure to find a device that is perfect for your individual needs!