Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Types and features

Types of powered wheelchairs

Standard or customised powered wheelchairs

  • Standard powered wheelchairs are made to a specification set out by the manufacturer and can be bought from a catalogue or mobility retailer.
  • Standard plus wheelchairs are standard wheelchairs that have been fitted with adaptations by the company supplying them. They can be bought in the same way as standard powered wheelchairs. A professional advisor or company rep can advise you on which adaptations are suitable.
  • Custom-built wheelchairs are available through specialist dealers and rehabilitation or enablement units and can be adapted to whatever specifications you require. Companies that provide these usually have their own advisors who draw up the specification in consultation with you or your assessor.

Class 2 and Class 3 powered wheelchairs

You don’t need a license to use a powered wheelchair, but there are specific legal requirements depending on the type. There are two categories:

  • Class 2 wheelchairs can only be used on the pavement and are limited to travelling at 4mph
  • Class 3 wheelchairs can be used on the pavement at up to 4mph, or on the road at up to 8mph, larger and require certain safety features (eg indicators and a horn).

For more information, see www.gov.uk/mobility-scooters-andpowered-wheelchairs-rules

Seating and postural supports 

Seating is vital - one of the most important things to think about when choosing a powered wheelchair.
There are three main things to consider:

  1. Posture
    Poor posture can cause fatigue and damage your health. The natural curves of your back should be supported and your shoulders, pelvis and knees kept level.

  2. Protecting your skin
    If you’re spending long periods in a wheelchair, it’s important that damage to your skin is minimised. The seating should reduce the effects of pressure, moisture, heat and shear (friction).

  3. Function
    The seating system should allow you to comfortably and safely do as much as you are able to. Standard seating is suitable for some people, but if you have more complex needs relating to posture and skin protection then you may need a custom seat designed to suit you.

Specialist features and accessories include:

  • foot and leg supports
  • knee blocks and pommels
  • moulded or contoured seats
  • side and chest prompts
  • harnesses
  • head and neck supports
  • pressure distribution cushions and supports
  • wicking or ventilated materials.

If you need specialist seating, speak to an OT or seating specialist or your Wheelchair Service: see Getting assessed.

Last updated: April 2015


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