A Guide To Buying a Wheelchair Without Insurance

Published: Dec 11, 2021

By now, most of you have seen my guide to buying a wheelchair (with insurance). I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to buy a wheelchair without insurance so I’ve put together a small guide. Please keep in mind that this guide is not meant to cover every insurance or financial situation. A lot of what is in here comes from research and self‐experience. As usual, your mileage may vary.

How to Measure Yourself

The most important step before buying a wheelchair is to capture your measurements. Usually, this is done by a trained physical therapist during a seating evaluation, but it can be done at home with a chair, a tape measure, and a friend.

Seat Width

To determine how wide of a seat you will need, measure the widest part of your body ‐ usually your hips or thighs. Do this wearing normal clothes and again wearing something bulky like winter clothing to see how much space you’ll need. Having too large of a gap between your hips and the chair can cause you to slouch or sit sideways in the chair.

Seat Depth

Measure horizontally from the back of your ass to the inside of your knees. Subtract a couple of inches so that you don’t end up with a seat edge that digs into your knees.

Backrest Height

Measure vertically from the bottom of your ass to your collarbone. What height of backrest you want is up to you. If you have problems with posture or an SCI, a higher backrest is better. A higher backrest also makes it easier for people to assist you when pushing the chair. If you are more mobile and want more flexibility and room to move your arms, get a lower backrest.

Seat Height

Seat height is the distance from the front of the chair to the floor. Measure the leg from the back of the knee to the sole of the foot. Then, add the thickness of your seat cushion when you’re sitting on it. Add at least two inches for footrest clearance. Do not add the footrest clearance if you’re gonna propel the chair with your feet.

Arm Rests

Armrests are heavy and make a wheelchair nearly impossible to self propel or pull up to a table or desk. I recommend against them. If you want armrests for your chair, here’s how you measure for them: With your arms at 90 degrees, measure vertically from the tip of the elbow to the top of the hips.

Risks and Drawbacks of Measuring Yourself

The main drawback of measuring yourself is that you could get it wrong. And an ill‐fitting chair can potentially make your health situation worse. Even if you do measure yourself accurately, you’re going to miss out on a lot of medical advice. A therapist can recommend back rests and cushions that help reduce pressure sores. Even if your insurance doesn’t cover a wheelchair, still check to see if you can get a seating evaluation. Also, Having an evaluation on file can make it easier to work with a vendor.

Contact a Vendor

After getting your measurements, reach out to a vendor (I use and recommend Numotion). Explain to them what you are looking for and what your insurance situation is. They probably won’t be able to help, but this route first to see what advice they offer. This is especially true if you’re hoping to get a custom‐built chair from a manufacturer like Ki or TiLite. Companies like TiLite will not work directly with customers. You have to go through a vendor like Numotion to get a custom chair built.

By getting a seating evaluation, I was able to buy a custom travel chair through a vendor even though it wasn’t covered.

Shop Online

If you’re unable to get insurance approval for a chair, you can still get a high quality one online. There are 3 main issues with ordering a wheelchair online:

  • Sizing is limited to what the site allows
  • The order forms are extremely long and complex
  • The chair is (usually) not returnable/refundable.

If you do decide to order a chair online, I recommend Sportaid. They have good customer service and it’s staffed by folks who actually use the products they sell.

If you’re willing to purchase a pre‐owned wheelchair to save some money, I’ve heard good things about Open Box Medical.