A manual wheelchair is parked.
There are numerous types of wheelchairs, ranging from manual to electric, to fit the needs of the elderly, paraplegics, and those with limited mobility.

All About the Different Types of Wheelchairs

If you’re in the market to buy a wheelchair, the selection available can be overwhelming. In this article, we’ll discuss the difference between manual and electric wheelchairs, and outline the features of some of the most common types so that you can make an educated decision on what wheelchair might work best for your situation.

Types of Manual Wheelchairs

Manual wheelchairs are propelled without the help of a battery. There are self-propelled options that require the individual to propel themselves with their limbs, and companion propelled options, which requires a person to push the individual. Manual wheelchairs are available in a variety of styles and configurations, and typically weigh between 21 and 40lbs.

Let’s take a look at two of the most common types of manual wheelchairs.

Folding Frame Wheelchair

Much as the name suggests, folding frame wheelchairs allow their user to fold the chair up for convenient storage. When the user wishes to fold their wheelchair, they simply release two levers that will unlock the chair.

Although they are more convenient for storage, they are usually heavier than rigid frame wheelchairs, which can make them more difficult to maneuver and slightly heavier to push. Also, it is harder to customize this model to fit an individual's physical needs. However, there are some models available that absorb shocks better than basic models, which make them more convenient alternatives for outdoor use.

Shower Wheelchair (Bathroom Wheelchair)

These wheelchairs are designed for easier hygiene maintenance for individuals that find it difficult to transfer in and out of their wheelchair to use the bathroom. Typically, these chairs have an opening in the seat of the chair that allows the individual to use the toilet while remaining in the chair.

When buying a shower wheelchair, a consumer must know what he or she wants from the product. While it helps to read the manual and understand the benefits of a wheelchair, a buyer must opt for a rustproof version as it will last longer than wheelchairs not offering this protection. When understanding these three things to look for, a shopper can get the best wheelchair for his or her situation and will not have problems in the future.

Rigid Frame Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs with a rigid frame tend to take up more space because they don't have a folding option. However, they are generally much lighter than other types of wheelchairs because their frames are usually made from either titanium or aluminum. Because they contain fewer moving parts, an added advantage is that they do not require much maintenance.

Rigid frame wheelchairs can also be more comfortable because they are better designed to fit the physical characteristics of the intended user. In other words, these models are designed for comfort rather than storage convenience. They are also extremely durable, which makes them a suitable option for individuals who maintain an active lifestyle.

However, one often cited disadvantage of this frame model is that they are difficult to transport. This means that users will often need to find alternative methods of transportation such as mobility buses.

Reclining Wheelchairs

The frame on a reclining wheelchair is usually pretty similar to a folding frame wheelchair. Although the latter is often criticized for its inability to adjust to suit the individual, reclining wheelchairs make it possible for users to do so. With this model, the user is given the option to adjust the backrest so that it reclines back.

This is a convenient option for individuals who spend long periods of time in their wheelchair, since the reclining option allows them to sit in a more restful position. However, because reclining wheelchairs are comprised of more moving parts, they often require more maintenance.

Types of Electric Wheelchairs

Electric wheelchairs, also known as power wheelchairs, have been designed for individuals that lack motor function and cardiovascular strength to operate a manual wheelchair. There are numerous types of electric wheelchairs, and making the correct selection is extremely important for the user’s comfort and quality of life.

Most electric wheelchairs have two components – the power base and seat. The batteries, motor, and other electrical components are housed in the power base, while the seat consists of a cushion, backrest, and armrests. Most electric wheelchairs have the controller, which consists of a joystick and keypad, attached to the armrest and connected to the power base.

Let’s now take a look at the most common types of electric wheelchairs.

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Front Wheel Drive

In this type of wheelchair, the drive system is positioned towards the front of the seat, with the wheels positioned in the front and the casters in the back. For power chair users who require a chair that can handle curbs, more challenging terrain, and is capable of traveling outdoors and across grassy areas, a front-wheel-drive chair is ideal.

Those who wish to purchase a front-wheel-drive wheelchair should look for a stabilizer feature that will make it easier to pivot around tight corners. However, users should evaluate the totality of their lifestyle to determine how and where they will use their chair the most before deciding on a particular wheel position.

Rear Wheel Drive

There are several reasons why thousands of individuals prefer rear wheel drive wheelchairs.

First, these chairs offer a wider turning radius, which makes navigating outdoor and open areas smoother. Second, they offer greater overall performance, and many of them have swingaway footrests, which provide the rider with extra support. Rear-wheel-drive wheelchairs also have anti-tip casters and large wheels that improve riding safety.

These are just a few of the reasons why many riders choose a rear-wheel-drive wheelchair. In most cases, it's people who need easy maneuvering and powerful driving capability who choose a rear-wheel-drive wheelchair.

It's an efficient type of wheelchair, and it makes it very easy for riders to navigate many types of environments. When compared with front-wheel drive and similar options, a rear-wheel-drive wheelchair also offers greater speed.

With a strong suspension and great turning radius, a rear-wheel-drive chair can quickly and efficiently rotate 360 degrees. Depending on the person, this type of wheelchair should have no problem satisfying a rider's mobility, lifestyle and comfort needs.

Mid Wheel Drive (Centre Drive)

In this type of wheelchair, the drive system is positioned in the center of the chair, below the seat. This chair has a tighter turning radius compared to rear and front wheel drive chairs and is therefore great for maneuvering in smaller spaces and on flat outdoor surfaces. This isn’t the best option for rough terrain as it can lose traction when moving over soft terrain. These chairs are typically only built for individuals up to 600lbs.

Powered Travel Wheelchairs

There are thousands of different powered travel wheelchairs to choose from, so before making a purchase, it's crucial for consumers to know what to look for.

Travel wheelchairs are powered by an electrical motor, and they're controlled with a remote or joystick, which determines the speed and direction of the chair. Unlike their manual counterparts, powered wheelchairs don't require any pushing. Most travel wheelchairs have four wheels, but some models have as many as six wheels.

This type of wheelchair typically weighs less than 100lbs making them easy to transport quickly in and out of your car. The compact size of these chairs provides an ideal option for maneuvering in smaller spaces, and through narrow doorways.

All Terrain Wheelchairs

All-terrain wheelchairs give people with limited mobility the opportunity to travel and have fun in all types of conditions. Advanced four-wheel-drive chairs with off-road treads eliminate the need to stick to a restrictive concrete path. Floatation wheels allow the rider to enjoy a day at the beach without being left on shore to watch the rest of the family enjoy the water. With advancements in design, being disabled no longer means being left out.

Paraplegic Wheelchairs

A paraplegic person is one that has been paralyzed from the waist down, typically due to a spinal cord injury. Most paraplegics continue to have the ability to use their arms, so they’re able to operate a wheelchair.

When looking for a wheelchair to buy, it's important to take dexterity, folding capability and durability into consideration. Folding wheelchairs are easier to operate but less sturdy. Electric paraplegic wheelchairs don't require a rider to have great dexterity, and paraplegic electric wheelchairs come in front, mid, and rear wheel drive, and are useful for paraplegics that don’t have the full use of their arms.

An important consideration to make is how much the chair will be used. If your budget is large, an electric wheelchair is almost always the better choice.

Standing Wheelchairs

This type of wheelchair will allow the individual to be raised from a seated to a standing position in order that they may interact with others while at eye level or reach objects that a conventional wheelchair would make inaccessible.

Standing wheelchairs avoid unnecessary lifting in and out of the chair, improve blood circulation, digestion, and bone development, and help with pressure management.


Investing in a wheelchair is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Do your research and speak to professionals before making your decision to ensure that you invest in a wheelchair that provides the most comfort and functionality for your physical limitations within your budget.