The Nature of Wheelchairs

Published: Nov 26, 2017

I get a lot of (great) questions from folks asking about whether or not a wheelchair is the ideal mobility aid for their situation and the answer is always “it depends”.

Here’s the thing no one tells you about using a wheelchair: wheelchairs are incredibly intimate medical devices. While other mobility aids are built around the idea of amplifying, easing, or stabilizing your current mobility, wheelchairs completely change how you move through the world on a day to day basis. To shamelessly borrow a quote from the Matrix (the good one):


Neo: Why do my [arms] hurt?

Morpheus: Because you’ve never used them before.

In a (manual) wheelchair, you go from using your legs to move to sitting in a chair for 16+ hours a day and using your arms and shoulders to move. If any aspect of that chair is measured incorrectly, improperly balanced, or poorly maintained it can lead to discomfort, unnecessary strain, injury or even death.

In order for a wheelchair to be an effective mobility aid, it needs to be built for your body. My wheelchair has a goddamn serial number on that bottom the designates how and when it was built for me.

I think a lot folks who become frustrated with manual wheelchairs get that way because either the chair wasn’t built for them to begin with or the chair they ended up with was poorly designed and measured.

And that’s the thing: there’s really no “trying” out a wheelchair like you can try out a cane or brace. The measurements required to make it safe and effective make it very much an all or nothing.

However, once you do have a chair that’s been designed and built with you in mind, the results can be absolutely fantastic: more energy, more freedom, more spoons.

Wheelchairs are absolutely worth it, but you need to be sure that it’s your legs that are (at least most of) the problem before completely investing in one.