The (Almost) Complete Guide to Buying a Wheelchair

If you’re wondering how to go about buying a wheelchair, here’s a (mostly) complete guide to buying a chair. Please note that this guide assumes you’re working within the American healthcare system and have some form of insurance.

Get a Prescription

The first step is to talk to your Doctor or Primary Care Provider and get a prescription for a wheelchair. Discuss with your healthcare provider your mobility needs and whether or not a wheelchair is the best mobility aid for you.

If they recommend you get a wheelchair, they should write you a prescription for the chair and a referral for a seating evaluation.

Get a Seating Evalutation

A seating evalution is where a physical therapist (or similar professional) with you and ask you about your level of mobility, your overall health, work‐life balance, etc.,

They will also test things like range of motion, balance, and posture and ask questions about any health issues you experience due to those things. If they ask you any question twice, pay close attention. Odds are they are looking to try and get you a piece of medical equipment that they believe would improve your overall health, but they know that they can’t get insurance to approve it unless you’re experiencing a specific medical condition.

For example, the therapist wants to get you a specific kind of seat cushion because they know it will help your posture, but insurance won’t approve the cost of the cushion unless you suffer from pressure sores.

Finally, they will measure you for your chair. These are the measurements that will be used by the chair manufacturer when they build it.

Contact a Vendor

Most wheelchair manufacturers do not work directly with consumers when creating a chair. Instead they work with a vendor (e.g., Nu Motion). These vendors will gather all the necessary information required by the manufacturer to get the chair built

Sign Off on the Blueprints and Parts List

Once the manufacturer has received everything they need, they will generate a blueprint and parts list for your new chair. You’ll need to review that document with the vendor you are working with and correct any mistakes.

Get Sign Off From Insurance

The last thing that a vendor wants to deal with is a custom built chair nobody can pay for. Before the manufacturer can start buidling the chair, insurance will need to preauthorize the purchase. Luckily, this is something you’re paying the vendor to deal with and they should take care of this part of the process for you. All they should need from you is your Insurance information.

Manufacture and Delivery

Once the all the paperwork is in order, the manufacturer can start buidling your new chair. This can take anywhere from four to eight weeks depending on the kind of chair you’re having built.

The chair will most likely be shipped to the vendor you were working through once it is complete. This gives you the opportunity to do a final check of the chair and have any adjustments made (dump, gravity, seat tension etc.,) before taking it home.

Your Experience May Vary (Wildly)

Please keep in mind that I wrote this guide based on my experience with purchasing a new, manual wheelchair. In addition to differences in time and vendor‐manufacturer communication, there may also be additional steps required by your insurance before a chair can be authorized.