Transporting a Manual Wheelchair in a Vehicle
When choosing a new wheelchair, priorities focus on fit and function. Can you propel the chair? Does it fit in your house, your office, or work for you in the community? Will you be able to transport your wheelchair in a vehicle?
Many aspects of manual wheelchairs make them more mobile compared to their power wheelchair counterparts; however, even within manual wheelchairs, you should consider details to simplify the transportation experience.
If you have the opportunity to assess your vehicle and the wheelchair before purchase, you may be able to select some details that will make the two devices more compatible with your lifestyle.
There are some things you should consider about your vehicle. Does it have two doors or four? Two doors typically open wider and make access easier.
Do you have a hatchback or a traditional trunk? The configuration may impact loading and unloading or if you need to take off components.
If you or a family member are lifting your wheelchair into a vehicle, weight is a primary consideration.
The lighter the chair, the easier it will be, but it also has a significant impact on the wheelchair user as it will impact the work of the upper extremities.
Since you are using your arms all day for propulsion and other daily activities, the strain from lifting a manual wheelchair into a vehicle can be excessive.
One research study finds the most strenuous activity for manual wheelchair users reported as entering and leaving a car, ascending inclines, and performing heavy lifting with arms.
These activities would most likely be done if a client placed their wheelchair in a vehicle and went on an outing. On a self-report survey measuring shoulder pain during daily living, the most identified problem was the act of the ‘wheelchair transfer in and out of a car.
Since there is so much variability, one constant we know is keeping the weight of the wheelchair as light as possible.
Frame Design: Folding vs Rigid
Folding Wheelchair Frames for Transportability:
- Convenient for transportation due to their ability to fold into a more compact size.
- Can be easily stored in the trunk of a car or carried in other vehicles.
- Folding mechanism allows for easier manoeuvrability in tight spaces, such as narrow doorways or crowded areas.
- Some folding wheelchairs offer detachable components, making it easier to fit into smaller vehicles or storage spaces.
- Consider the folded dimensions and weight of the wheelchair to ensure it can be comfortably transported in your vehicle.
Rigid Wheelchair Frames for Transportability:
- Lightweight construction makes them easier to handle and transport.
- No folding mechanism means a more rigid frame, providing stability during transportation.
- Compact design allows for easy manoeuvring in tight spaces.
- Some rigid wheelchairs offer quick-release wheels or removable components for easier storage and transportation.
- Consider the weight and overall dimensions of the rigid wheelchair to ensure it can be easily transported in your vehicle.
When choosing between folding and rigid wheelchair frames, consider your specific transportability needs.
Think about the available storage space in your vehicle, ease of manoeuvrability, and whether detachable or quick-release components are necessary.
Options and Accessories
Ensuring your options and accessories are transport compatible is important.
Since some things may need to be removed for transport, they should do so easily and conveniently.
Common things to be removed are rear wheels, armrests, footrests, anti-tippers, back supports and cushions.
Try to choose quick-release items for easy removal, reinstalling, and durability to withstand everyday use.
Once your wheelchair is in the vehicle, you may consider options for ensuring the wheelchair stays in place.
This can involve ensuring wheel locks are engaged or adding options such as unoccupied wheelchair tie-downs to safeguard the wheelchair will not pose a safety risk when driving.
Other Transport Options
If placing the wheelchair in the vehicle independently is not possible, other options exist.
After-market devices such as robotic arms and car toppers can make it possible. Finding the right match for you, your wheelchair and your vehicle will be important!
No matter the method of getting your wheelchair into a vehicle, ensure it is safe, user friendly and maintainable.
Being able to assess the wheelchair with your vehicle to trial transfers and storage is important.
Try different tactics and ask other wheelchair users or clinicians for tips and assistance to find the perfect method for you.
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