So You've Never Used a Manual Wheelchair Before?

So You've Never Used a Manual Wheelchair Before?

Nov 8th 2021

Over 30% of GRIT Freedom Chair riders have never used a manual wheelchair before. Individuals with difficulty walking find that the GRIT Freedom Chair enables easier travel over long distances and rough terrain than their walkers, canes, or crutches. If this is your first wheeled mobility device, you might have some questions, and we're here to help.

Why use a wheelchair if I can walk?

Using a wheelchair to mitigate your disability is a very personal decision. However, if you answer yes to any of the following questions, you'd likely benefit from having a wheelchair in your tool box:

  • Would a wheelchair allow you to enjoy more of life than you could without it?
  • Would using a wheelchair help you overcome more accessibility barriers?
  • Do you want to get more cardio exercise, but can't move fast enough with your legs to do so?
  • Are you constantly worried about where you will be able to sit down on an outing, always looking for a chair or a bench to rest on, and are sometimes separated from your companions to do so?

Active GRIT Freedom Chair rider Nerissa explains wheelchair use in this way:

“It is unfortunate that the wheelchair has become an international symbol of disability, when in fact it's the wheelchair itself that enables an individual to maintain a fulfilling life in spite of illness or injury . . . Personally, I take the stance that using a wheelchair is a form of fighting my illness. My illness is what causes me pain, makes me fatigued, and makes my gait unpredictable. My illness is what causes me to make excuses to avoid social situations or cancel plans last minute because of a flare up. My illness is what initially took away hiking and dancing. Using my wheelchair, though, I can say, 'Illness, do your worst! You aren't stopping me from living life!' I do things with my wheelchair I couldn't have done otherwise. I've danced again in my wheelchair, and I can hike with my GRIT Freedom Chair. To me, that's the complete opposite of giving up . . . Everyone has a different life, different priorities, and different dreams. It's important to make your decision based on what will allow you to get the most out of your life, versus making a decision based on other people's perceptions. In this world, you will never be able to please everyone, so your first priority needs to be your own well-being.”

-Nerissa Cannon, "Rolling With the Punches"

Choosing the Correct Size

Just like people come in all shapes and sizes, most wheelchairs do, too. The GRIT Freedom Chair is available in 3 seat widths: 16", 18" and 20". On each unit, the height of the footrest can easily be adjusted up or down to accommodate your legs.

To size yourself, you can use a tape measure or ruler to measure across the widest part of your thighs.

General Terminology

As you're looking at different types of wheelchairs, you might find a handful of words that are new to you. Here are just a few:

So You've Never Used a Manual Wheelchair Before general terminology, quick-release axles: wheelchair wheel detaching from axle release

Photo Credit: Living Spinal

Quick-Release Axles

This is a type of axle in which you depress the center button of the larger, rear wheel, and it allows the wheel to be removed from the frame. This style of axle is standard on most rigid frame manual wheelchairs so as to be able to break the chair into small pieces for transport.

So You've Never Used a Manual Wheelchair Before general terminology, anti-tipper: anti-tip bars accessory shown on back of GRIT wheelchair

Anti-Tip Bars offered as an accessory for the GRIT Freedom Chair.

Anti-Tipper

This is a device that limits the extent of tipping of a wheelchair. Most commonly its one or two bars mounted at the bottom rear of the wheelchair. While it can be helpful in preventing backwards tipping, depending on clearance it may cause difficulty in overcoming certain obstacles (such as curbs).

So You've Never Used a Manual Wheelchair Before general terminology, caster wheel: close up of two caster wheels shown on wheelchair

Photo Credit: New Mobility

Caster Wheel

These are the small wheels that are in contact with the ground during normal operation of a wheelchair. Typically they are directly in front of the larger wheels, and on either side of the foot rest They have a horizontal axle that swivels about a vertical axis. They come in a variety of styles, colors, and materials.

For more terminology, check out this handy glossary.

Can I fall out/backward?

Just like learning to ride a bike, getting used to a wheelchair has a learning curve. You have to learn how your balance and weight shifting affect the performance of your chair, and that comes naturally the more you use your wheelchair. There are accessories available that can help to minimize the risk of injury while acclimating to your new equipment. Primarily these include anti-tippers as well as a seat belt.