How to buy your first wheelchair

Anyone who has made their first wheelchair purchase can tell you it’s a very personalized decision. Not only do you need to think about how it will fit your body, but also how you will use it, and your environment. Triumph Mobility President David Mackereth has worked in the mobility field for over 25 years and has had many conversations with everyone from dealers to health professionals to users themselves about making this very important purchase. Here are some of his tips:

Think about your disability and how the mobility device needs to help

Questions to consider include whether you need to use the wheelchair occasionally, daily, or all the time. What capabilities do you need to meet? Will you need to regularly transport your chair to commute to work? Do you participate in sports and other hobbies that require a higher performance quality? Consider too what kind of back support you need based on your disability and use. Depending on your disability, this may be the point where you decide on whether a manual or electric wheelchair suits you best.  

Also think about your own body. Consider your size and weight and take your hip measurements so you know the sizing you require (don’t forget to add 2-3 cm on each side). Too small and it might be uncomfortable, and too big and you might slip out of it! Also verify the weight limits. 

Consider also the needs of any caregivers who may be helping you push the wheelchair. Make a list of your must-haves and nice-to-have (a cup holder is a fair request!)

Consider your environment

Do you need the wheelchair mostly for indoor use or do you often go outdoors on rougher terrain? Do you live in a climate where you may need to move through snow? If you are, you might need more durable tires. You could also consider accessories like the reTyre (skins to add traction to your tires).

It’s important to think about how you would use the wheelchair at different times of year, the most common ways you’ll use the chair (moving around your home and place of work, on city sidewalks, on ramps) and less common ways you’ll use it (how will you take it on vacation or to visit relatives). Again, making some notes is helpful preparation for your wheelchair shopping trip.

Do some research and make a shortlist

Many dealers are online these days, making it easy to do some background research. As with any product, it’s helpful to get a sense of what’s out there. Of course, we’re going to suggest you check out Triumph’s selection of Panthera wheelchairs, which offer chairs for everyone from elite athletes to children. 

As you’re looking at wheelchairs, here is an opportunity to check on specifications like your hip width (as recorded in step one) to ensure the manufacturer offers your size. Also consider the frame material and construction, the tire type and quality, as well as any accessories you may need. You will also want to investigate the warranty and any guarantees, plus the support and service policies. 

Get out there and test drive 

Many wheelchairs are on offer through dealers, so find one near you to actually do the test drive. Does your body feel comfortable in the wheelchair? Does it roll the way you need it to? Do the wheel locks work well? Does it have arm and footrests in the style that makes sense for your needs? Dealers are also experts on these products, so you should bring your list of questions and be sure to have a good conversation. Try out more than one and compare how they feel.

While the wheelchair is a big purchase, it’s also one with great potential to give you back some freedom and help you keep moving forward with your busy life. We hope these tips will help you find the right one for you.