Resource Center

Manual Wheelchair Components

Frame - The two most common types of frames currently available are rigid frame chairs (where the frame remains in one piece and the wheels are released for storage or travel), and the standard cross-brace frame (which enables the frame to fold for transport or storage).

Upholstery - must withstand daily use in all kinds of weather.   Consequently, manufacturers provide a variety of options to users, ranging from cloth to new synthetic fabrics to leather. Many manufacturers also offer a selection of upholstery colors, ranging from black to neon, to allow for individual selection and differing tastes among consumers.

Seating System - are sold separately from the wheelchairs themselves, as seating must be chosen on an individual basis. It is important when selecting a wheelchair or a seating system to ensure that the two components are compatible.

Brakes - or wheel locks are available in several different designs, and can be mounted at various heights to maximize convenience to the user.

Wheels/Tire - Most wheelchairs use four wheels, with two large wheels at the back and two smaller ones (casters) at the front. The standard tire used for the rear wheels on most wheelchairs is a pneumatic tire, for which the standard size is 24 inches. Smaller and larger sizes, however, also are available. Many manufacturers now also offer other types of tires--such as solid tires, semi-pneumatic, or radial tires--at extra cost. Mag wheels and off-road wheels also are options on some chairs. Casters, too, vary in size (ranging from six to eight inches in diameter) and composition (pneumatic, solid rubber, plastic, or a combination of these).

Footrests - usually are incorporated into the frame of the chair as part of the design. Cross-brace folding chairs often have footrests which swivel, flip up, and/or can be removed.

Armrests - Many lightweight manual chairs are designed to be used without armrests.   The absence of armrests makes it easier for the user to roll up to a desk or table, and many active wheelchair users prefer the streamlined look of a chair with no armrests. However, armrests are helpful if the user has difficulty with upper body balance while seated. Armrests come in a variety of styles including desk length (to allow the user closer access to desks and tables) or full length and both types may be flip-up, fixed, or detachable.