How to find the right wheelchair for your needs

From a standard wheelchair to a power wheelchair – what types of wheelchairs are there??

The main types of wheelchairs are the following:

Standard wheelchair

  • cheap
  • with basic equipment
  • few adaptation possibilities
  • stable, but heavy
  • low comfort
  • can also be rented
  • as a temporary solution
  • for patient transport
  • with an accompanying person

Lightweight wheelchair

  • available at a reasonable price depending on the model
  • more adjustment and adaptation possibilities than a standard wheelchair
  • light and easy to operate
  • not suitable for every surface
  • depending on the model for permanent use
  • for self-propelling and pushing
  • for most environments

Active wheelchair

  • Many customization options
  • low weight
  • available in many different models
  • can be moved well without help
  • for permanent use
  • depending on the model for sports

Care wheelchair

  • large and heavy
  • very many equipment possibilities
  • expensive
  • hardly to move by yourself
  • for severely disabled people
  • for transport and storage

Power wheelchair

  • with electric motor for easy locomotion
  • many different equipment options
  • Different steering options
  • more expensive than manual wheelchairs
  • depending on the model heavy
  • for people who find it difficult or impossible to operate a wheelchair manually
  • also for longer distances and slopes
  • depending on the model for indoor or outdoor use or both

Children's wheelchair

You can get different types of wheelchairs, for example, active or power wheelchairs, in designs for children. Make sure that a children's wheelchair has enough adjustment options to grow with the child and to offer children as much freedom of movement as possible. Apart from these types of wheelchairs, you can get wheelchairs for special needs in specialized stores. This includes, for example, all-terrain wheelchairs or beach wheelchairs. Shower wheelchairs are used specifically for toileting and showering.

Wheelchair drives – important differences

Wheelchairs are powered differently:

  • Sliding wheelchair: Nursing and standard wheelchairs can hardly or not at all be moved by yourself. A person is needed to push the wheelchair, especially for longer distances.
  • Hand drive: Most active wheelchairs are driven by hand. A distinction is made between different manual drive types, for example the one-hand drive.
  • Tripple wheelchair: A tripple wheelchair can be moved in addition to the hand or exclusively by tripping with the feet. It is suitable, for example, for people who can still move their feet, but can no longer move alone with a walker.
  • electric wheelchair: electric wheelchairs move by means of an electric motor. Depending on the model, you can cover long distances and conquer slopes with it. Electric wheelchairs should be distinguished from scooters or. power wheelchairs, which have a steering wheel and are used primarily by people with limited walking ability for longer distances.
  • Auxiliary drive: As an alternative to purchasing a power wheelchair, you have the option of adding an auxiliary electric drive to a manual wheelchair.

The advantage: you can use the manual drive for short distances and the auxiliary drive for longer distances and inclines. With power wheelchairs, too, you have a choice of different models for different needs. Towing devices add another drive wheel to your wheelchair and make it suitable for off-road use.

Rear, front or middle wheel? – Drives of electric wheelchairs

With power wheelchairs, a distinction is made between different types of drive according to where the motor is located. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages:

  • Rear-wheel drive: wheelchairs with rear-wheel drive are very suitable for driving outside. They are track stable, but less maneuverable than center-wheel drive models.
  • Front-wheel drive: A front-wheel drive has the advantage that you can easily negotiate high sidewalk edges. Front-wheel drive wheelchairs are maneuverable, but track stability is limited compared to rear- or mid-wheel drive models.
  • Center wheel drive: Wheelchairs with center wheel drive are as track stable as those with rear wheel drive. In addition, they are able to turn on the spot. This pays off in tight spaces, for example small and/or winding apartments.

Which drive is the best choice depends on where you want to use the wheelchair and what distances you want to cover with it. It is best to seek thorough advice on this.

How much does a wheelchair cost?

The price of wheelchairs varies greatly depending on model and equipment. While simple foldable lightweight wheelchairs are available for a few hundred euros, active wheelchairs are significantly more expensive. This applies even more to power wheelchairs.

Fortunately, you usually don't have to pay these prices yourself. Because wheelchairs are considered assistive devices. This means that the health insurance will cover the costs as soon as you are entitled to a wheelchair. You only pay a maximum co-payment of 10 euros.

When is there a right to a wheelchair?

Basically, you can always apply for a wheelchair if you are dependent on it. This may be the case if you are permanently ill or have limited mobility. You may also be temporarily unable to walk after an injury or surgery.

An important basis for this is SGB V § 33. Among other things, this states:

“Insured persons are entitled to the provision of hearing aids, body prostheses, orthopedic and other aids that are necessary in individual cases to ensure the success of medical treatment, to prevent an imminent disability or to compensate for a disability, insofar as the aids are not to be regarded as general commodities of daily use or are not provided in accordance with § 34 para. 4 are excluded.”

Of course, if you are permanently restricted, you will need a different wheelchair than if you are only dependent on it for a few weeks. The same applies if you have limited strength in your hands and arms or other special impairments. This is where the doctor's prescription comes into play.

Which wheelchair is covered by health insurance?

The prescription you receive from your doctor determines which wheelchair your health insurance will pay for. Therefore this should be as detailed as possible.

Consult thoroughly in advance with your doctor and possibly other specialists, which needs your wheelchair should meet. Clarify questions like the following:

  • In which environment should the wheelchair be used?
  • What type of wheelchair or wheelchair drive you need (for example, a power wheelchair)?
  • Which fitting/adjustment options are important? Do you need special brakes, for example?

How can I apply for a wheelchair?

If you have received a prescription for the wheelchair, follow these steps:

  • Find out if your health insurance company cooperates with certain medical supply stores. If yes, you choose one of them, if not, you are free in your choice.
  • The provider prepares a cost estimate with the health insurance company.
  • This will check the cost estimate.
  • If it is approved, you will receive your wheelchair.

If there is a used wheelchair at the medical supply store that meets your requirements, you must take it.

In addition, the following applies: The health insurance only covers the costs for what is necessary. If you want a wheelchair with features beyond what is listed on your prescription, you must pay at least the difference yourself.

Summary: A wheelchair is an aid that is paid for by health insurance companies. A doctor's prescription is required. Make sure this details your requirements. How to get a wheelchair that fits you best.

Dimensions and weight of wheelchairs

How wide and heavy is a wheelchair?

The decisive factor for the width of a wheelchair is the seat width and thus your own hip circumference.

Use the rule of thumb: seat width + 20 cm = width of wheelchair as a guide

This means, for example: For example, men with a dress size L need a wheelchair that is about 65 cm wide; for women with a dress size 40, it is about 5 cm less.

Wheelchairs for sports are usually wider than other models, children's wheelchairs narrower. If you live in an apartment with very narrow doors, they may need to be adjusted.

The differences in the weight of wheelchairs are even greater. While some active wheelchairs for manual drive weigh less than 10 kilograms, most power wheelchairs range between 60 and 140 kilograms. But there are exceptions: foldable lightweights with a motor.

Tip: A high weight also has advantages, first and foremost a higher tipping safety. On the other hand, it makes transporting the wheelchair more difficult. Consider the intended use of your wheelchair or the wheelchair of your relative.

Adjusting a wheelchair correctly – tips

How you sit in your wheelchair has a decisive effect on your well-being, your health and your quality of life. Therefore it is very important to fit the wheelchair exactly:

  • Seat width: The seat width for wheelchairs is the distance between the outside of the frame and the outside of the frame. Make sure that there is 1 to 2 cm of space between the pelvis and the frame in each case. You should neither feel trapped nor slide from one side to the other. If you do a lot of outdoor wheelchair riding while wearing a coat and using blankets, it sometimes makes sense to leave more room.
  • Seat height: A distinction is made between front and rear seat height. Accordingly, measurements are taken from the floor to the front seat tube and from the floor to the rear seat tube. Ideal is at least 3 cm under the footboard. In addition, the inner surface of the hands should be exactly above the wheel hub when the hands are hanging down.
  • Seat depth: The seat depth is measured from the front edge of the back tube to the front edge of the seat. With an upright posture, there should be 2 to 3 finger widths of space between the back of the knees and the front edge of the seat.
  • Back height: The back height is the distance between the top edge of the backrest covering and the rear top edge of the seat surface. About a finger width of space between the height of the back and the shoulder blade is often a good solution. However, individual factors such as paralysis level matter in this regard.
  • Lower leg length: The lower leg length is measured from the back of the knee to the bottom of the heel (including shoes). It should correspond to the length between the front seat tube and the footboard or footplates, respectively. Also, make sure the footboard is at least 3 inches off the ground, unless the wheelchair is propelled by tapping the feet. Ideally, the knees are at a 90-degree angle.

Important: Accessories such as seat cushions can have a positive influence on the sitting posture, but also have an effect on the adaptation of wheelchairs.

The angle of the seat also affects the comfort of the seat and health. Depending on the torso stability, it is advisable to increase the inclination backwards to counteract overturning. Generally it provides for more stability and facilitates the operation, if the seat height turns out in front higher than behind.

Tip: Do not set the armrests too high, so that you have good access to the drive wheels and can relax your shoulders.

Wheelchair accessories – the selection is large

Little things can have a big impact on the comfort of wheelchairs. This starts with wheelchair aids such as leg protection blankets, slip sacks, rain capes, hand warmers and other cold weather accessories. You can also get products for transporting shopping, wheelchair trays, ergonomic handrims and much more from specialist dealers. Accessories that you do not urgently need, but you have to pay for yourself.

Summary: Each wheelchair should be customized to the individual and their needs. Decisive are primarily seat width, seat height, seat depth, back height and lower leg length. In addition to your own measurements, physical limitations play an important role.

How to transport a wheelchair?

Transporting a wheelchair can be a challenge. How best to manage it also depends on the type of wheelchair you use.

How to fold a wheelchair?

Wheelchairs with folding frames are especially convenient to transport. You can simply fold these up and thus transport them in the car or even on the plane, for example. But pay attention to the weight. Meanwhile, there are already foldable lightweights with electric motor – a very good solution if you like to be on the road.

How can I load a wheelchair into the car?

If you want to transport a wheelchair by car, a loading aid is a good idea. Depending on the model, this will automatically lift your wheelchair into the back seat, roof box or trunk. In addition to easy handling, make sure that the seat is securely fastened. Otherwise the wheelchair or car may be damaged. In addition, there is a risk that your wheelchair could become a projectile in the event of emergency braking.

The best thing to do is to contact a company that is familiar with the conversion of vehicles to make them suitable for the disabled. Folding braces can sometimes be transported without a loading aid.

How can I get down or up the stairs with a wheelchair?

Stairs quickly become a serious obstacle for a person in a wheelchair. In public, non-accessible buildings or when a lift fails, it is usually best to get help from others. Depending on your own physical condition, there are also techniques for getting up at least some steps by yourself. You can learn this in training courses.

Please note: Even if you have help “climbing the stairs,” safety first. If you feel that you and/or your companions are overwhelmed by the situation, it is better to take a detour.

Mobility aids in the private sphere

Avoiding stairs at home is not an option. There are a variety of mobility aids available to you here:

  • Stairlifts: the best-known aid for stairs is the stairlift. It usually works with rails that take you up the stairs. Some stair lifts transport you directly in a wheelchair, others require you to reposition yourself.
  • Stair caterpillar: Stair caterpillars have rubber caterpillar belts. You transport a wheelchair mounted on the device up or down. In most cases, an accompanying person operates the device. One advantage of stair caterpillars is that they can be disassembled and transported. So you can apply it indoors and outdoors.
  • Electric stair climber: Electric aids for climbing stairs are also operated by assistants.

The costs for these solutions differ. Whether health insurance will subsidize a stair lift, for example, depends on the individual case.

Summary: Various aids are available for transporting wheelchairs and negotiating stairs. How your health insurance company subsidizes them depends on the individual case.

Wheelchairs in traffic – that applies

You or your family members probably use the wheelchair regularly for outdoor activities. There are a few things to consider – for your safety and that of other road users.

Where are wheelchairs allowed to drive?

Basically you are allowed to drive wheelchairs everywhere where pedestrians are on the road, but only at walking speed. Do not switch to the bike lane under any circumstances. It is not a good idea to drive a wheelchair on the street, no matter if it is equipped with an electric motor or not.

Do wheelchairs need insurance?

Manual wheelchairs and power wheelchairs for outdoors with a maximum speed of 6 km/h do not need special insurance and license plates. But do take out liability insurance and homeowner's insurance.

For a power wheelchair that goes faster than 6 km/h, you need a license plate and moped insurance.

What about public transportation?

According to the Passenger Transportation Act, wheelchairs must be transported on public transportation such as buses and trains. Unfortunately, in reality, accessibility looks different. If you are visiting a foreign place, it is best to inquire about local conditions beforehand.

Good to know: In some cases, restrictions apply to electric scooters for safety reasons. In addition, it always depends on the individual case whether the spaces provided for wheelchairs are already occupied.

Which wheelchair suits me?

You are looking for the best wheelchair for your needs? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where will you use the wheelchair – primarily indoors or outdoors or both, respectively? If you want to use it to cover longer distances?
  • How about your strength and coordination especially in your arms and hands? Can you operate a manual device or do you need a power wheelchair? Do you have special requirements for the control system?
  • Do you need special equipment?
  • Do you want/need to transport the wheelchair frequently? Would you like to use it “only” to drive a car or also to fly with a wheelchair?

Clarify such and similar questions in communication with doctors and other specialists.

A wheelchair needs time to get used to

If people are not congenitally dependent on a wheelchair, you will need to get used to it. The same applies to family members.

This familiarization will take some time, but you can help to make it short. Most important: Take the time to choose your wheelchair. Get thorough advice from doctors and other specialists, test-drive your wheelchair and make sure it is well fitted. This is how your wheelchair helps you enjoy a better quality of life in the long term.


How to find the right wheelchair for your needs


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