Versus Folding Wheelchairs
Comparison of rigid or folding wheelchairs
By Gene Emmer
Did you ever notice that you never see a disabled athlete competing in
a folding wheelchair? The reason is increased performance of rigid wheelchairs.
All athletes seek to optimize performance. But performance is not only
important for sports wheelchairs, it is important for active everyday
users as well. A well designed rigid wheelchair becomes part of the body
of a disabled user allowing easier access and freedom of movement. What
are the features of a rigid wheelchair that give superior performance?
Reduced Maintenance and Weight: Folding chairs have lots of movable
parts that undergo strain. These parts must often be regularly adjusted
or replaced to keep the chair in alignment. Because of this strain, thicker
walled aluminium is required and therefore the wheelchairs are usually
heavy. Rigid wheelchairs have fewer movable parts and fewer things to
go wrong. Rigid wheelchairs are generally more durable and age better
than folding wheelchairs.
Much of the energy from the push on the wheels is lost in the
flexing parts of the folding wheelchair. Since the rigid wheelchair has
fewer movable parts, most of the energy from the push on the wheels is
translated into forward motion. In short, the rigid wheelchair may be
easier to push than a folding wheelchair.
Due to the need to fold, the folding wheelchair design might not
be optimized for performance. For example, the casters of the folding
wheelchair are usually placed well behind the foot-rest, in order to allow
the wheelchair to close properly. This design puts a lot of weight on
the casters. With the rigid wheelchair, the distance between the footrest
and casters is usually much shorter; placing more of the weight on the
rear wheels. Less weight on the casters makes the rigid wheelchair easier
Because rigid wheelchairs are lighter and more manuverable than
folding wheelchairs they, perform better, that is, they are easier for
the user to move in. But this is not an advantage only for athletes. Imagine
a wheelchair user going up a wheelchair ramp without assistance. This
can be more difficult in a heavy folding chair, than in a manuverable,
ultra-light, which can be lighter by 10kg or more.
In summary, due to weight, design, and fewer moving parts, the
performance of a rigid wheelchair is usually better than a folding wheelchair.
This difference may become even more noticeable as the wheelchairs age.
Performance is only one of the advantages of a rigid wheelchair over
folding wheelchairs. Below is a partial list of advantages of rigid wheelchairs
over folding chairs. Can you think of others?
Better Body Fit (Design): The primary design of a rigid wheelchair is
to fit the body of the user. The primary design of a folding wheelchair
is to fold. Folding wheelchairs are generally boxy, while rigid wheelchairs
conform to the shape of the body. For example, with a rigid chair, one
can taper the design to conform to the body shape (large at the hips,
narrow at the knees) which can hold the users body in place. Also
the aluminium between the knees and footrest can be tapered (wider at
the knees, narrow at the feet) holding the feet in place. With a folding
chair, you can not taper it or it would not close completely.
After Market Adjustments: Rigid wheelchairs generally have more configurations
and adjustments then folding chairs. Most folding wheelchairs have limits
in their configurations and adjustments. For example, many folding wheelchairs
do not allow for adjusting the angle between the backrest and the seat.
Independence: Users can easily make transfers from rigid wheelchairs
into some cars independently. With a folding wheelchair, the user usually
requires a companion to fold the wheelchair and put it in the car trunk.
With some forms of rigid wheelchairs, the user can transfer into the car
and from the inside of the car, remove the two wheels, fold down the back
rest and bring the wheelchair inside the car and place it either in the
back seat or on the floor. An independent transfer would be more difficult
in a folding wheelchair.
Esthetics: Some rigid wheelchairs are designed to be attractive. Folding
wheelchairs are rarely considered attractive, only functional
What is the advantage of a folding wheelchair? Mainly there is one advantage:
a folding chair can be stored in a trunk of an automobile without removing
the wheels. Rigid wheelchairs are not for everyone, but many people who
are now using folding wheelchairs are better off in a rigid wheelchair.
Who is the right customer for a rigid wheelchair? Someone who:
Has good upper body strength
Wants to be independent
Is young and active (5-50 years)
Sees their wheelchair as part of their body and not just a piece
Who is the right customer for a folding chair? Someone who:
Will never be independent or has no upper body strength
Has minimal upper body strength or coordination
Is very young (0-4) or older (60-90)
REMEMBER: A rigid wheelchair is made for the users convenience.
Folding wheelchairs are made for companions convenience. Which would