There are three basic types of medical wheelchairs:
- Manual wheelchairs. These wheelchairs are powered by human and commonly known as self-propelling. There are also ones that may be pushed by another person.
- Electric wheelchairs. These are usually powered by rechargeable batteries. Some of these models can be converter to manual by changing the wheels and removing the motor. Others may have an option of break release that provides freewheeling, allowing to push the chair by another person, like a manual chair.
- Transport wheelchairs. These can only be used with another person pushing. Wheelchairs of this type have all 4 wheels of equal size, as a rule approximately 20 cm in diameter, instead of 2 large rear wheels (usually approx. 58 cm in diameter) and 2 small front wheels.
As a rule, medical wheelchairs consist of a seat and back mounted on 2 large wheels on 2 axles and 2 small wheels near the feet. Optionally, there can be minor additional features, for example, to prevent toppling or assist mounting a seat. Special anti-tippers can also be mounted either on the back or on the front of the chair to prevent rider from overturn the wheelchair.
Present-day medical wheelchairs come in a variety of colors and sizes and can be greatly customized. Several options such as the size of a sit (depth and width), seat-to-floor height, cup holder, footrests, and much more may be customized according to user's requirements.
A person rides a manual wheelchair by pushing circular bars on the outside of the rear wheels with the hands. Some of the advantages that manual medical wheelchairs have over the electric wheelchairs are: lightweight (this means that they are easier to push), lower cost, unlimited range, easy transporting and maneuvering, etc.
Electric medical wheelchairs or simply powerchairs are moved by actuating motors instead of manpower, typically with a joystick or alternating control for people whose arms are disabled. Powerchairs are commonly powered by deep-cycle rechargeable batteries, similar to batteries used to power boat engines.
Today, there are a few wheelchair producers that dominate the world wheelchair market. But a huge number of smaller manufacturers make important products as well. Similar to other manufacturers, producers of wheelchair come in loads of varieties. There are huge corporate medical wheelchair manufacturers, smaller specialized makers, and numerous innovative companies hoping to join the community of leading wheelchairs brands. Naturally, it is smart to find out what various producers offer prior to deciding which company produces the optimal chair for you.
The largest wheelchairs brands who employ hundreds of people and are by large owned by parent corporations with significant financial resources are: Everest & Jennings, Invacare, Permobil, Sunrise/Quickie, etc.