Wheelchairs are mobility devices in which chairs are equipped with large wheels. They are mostly used by people who have difficulty in walking, such as people who are sick, injured, or physically disabled. There are several types of wheelchairs depending upon the method of working and purpose of using them. Some of these types are manual, electric, sports or lightweight, junior, pediatric, etc. Previously, manual wheelchairs are commonly used. However, as the number of people who need wheelchairs has increased, various models with advanced functions are developed, which are designed to meet the special and unique needs of people.
Electric wheelchairs or power wheelchairs are operated by motors and batteries. There are also electric-powered scooters, designed to be used indoors as well as outdoors. Elder people and those who are handicapped, and need wheelchairs continuously for their day-to-day activities, use power wheelchairs, since the manual can be a bit tiresome to operate continuously. In this type of wheelchairs, rechargeable batteries are used under the seat in order to supply power to the wheels. Some of the commonly used batteries are wet-cell (light and cheap), gel-cell (heavier, but long-lasting), and AGM (expensive, heavy, low-maintenance). Power wheelchairs are cost-effective, as one can charge the batteries by simply plugging into electric sockets.
One can also use different power wheelchairs for indoors and outdoors. For example, wheelchairs with light frames are suitable to be used indoors, whereas those that are expensive and come with strong frames can be used outdoors. In these wheelchairs, the position of the drive wheels (wheels connected to the motor) and the turning radii are most important and should be considered.
Rear-Wheel Drive: This is the traditional and most common type of power wheelchairs, in which the rear wheels are the drive wheels. They have a higher top speed (about 6 mph) and larger turning radius than the other models. However, care has to be taken while climbing steep elevations, as chances of tipping backwards are high due to poor balance.
Front-Wheel Drive: Front-wheel-driven power wheelchairs are best for using indoors. These have a tight turning radius. In these models, the drive wheels are positioned away from the seating area. The large wheels ahead of the seat makes them comfortable for riding in uneven areas. They have slightly lower top speeds (about 5 mph) as compared to rear-wheel type, and often tend to skid at higher speeds.
Mid-Wheel Drive: As the name suggests, the drive wheels are placed in the middle portion in these wheelchairs. These types of models have the tightest turning radius, but have less top speed (about 5½ mph) than the rear-wheel type. However, one should be careful while riding in rough terrains on these.
Overall, electric wheelchairs are mostly bulkier than conventional ones, as the motors and batteries are supported by strong frames. At present, there are highly sophisticated wheelchairs in which one can climb stairs or ride smoothly on uneven surfaces. It is advisable to know about the suitability of each option before actually buying a power wheelchair.