Wheelchair Use

A wheelchair is an assistive device that helps you get around. Wheelchairs may be used on a temporary basis after an injury or as a long-term vehicle. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. When buying or renting a wheelchair, consider the comfort of the seat, footrest, backrest, armrests, and the controller. If choosing a manual wheelchair, consider whether you or a family member can easily fold and lift the chair into a car. Your caregiver can help determine the best option for you.

Learning how to use a wheelchair takes patience and practice. It helps to think ahead, so you can manage any challenging environments. With patience and support, you can become very good at using your wheelchair.



A manual wheelchair is set in motion by the strength of your arms and shoulders.

  • To move, use your hands to push the rim of the wheels forward or backward.

  • To turn, hold the wheel steady on the side you wish to turn toward, and push on the opposite wheel.

  • To make a sharp spin, push one wheel forward and the other wheel backward at the same time.

  • To stay still, use the brake.

It takes good upper body strength to use this type of wheelchair. You may wear gloves to protect your hands. Manual wheelchairs weigh less than power wheelchairs. They can also be folded up for storage and transport.

Power Mobility Device

Power wheelchairs are also called electric or motorized wheelchairs. They run on a battery that needs to be recharged. Power wheelchairs are typically operated with hand controls. Advanced models have other methods of control if you are not able to use your hands.

  • When first learning how to use your wheelchair, set the speed to a low setting and practice in an open area.

  • To move, push the "joystick" controller in the direction you want to go.

  • Read the wheelchair instructions and ask your supplier how to use the other options on the joystick controller. Each wheelchair is different.

Power wheelchairs are larger and heavier than manual wheelchairs. Some models allow you to change the seat position and height. Advanced models allow you to tilt, recline, and redistribute pressure on your body. They are available in all-wheel, rear-wheel, mid-wheel, and front-wheel drive.



  • Avoid curbs and bumps when possible. Back over bumps if you must drive over them. Learn how to pop up the front of your manual wheelchair when going over small bumps.

  • Always move slowly on rough ground.

  • Wear a seat belt.

  • Keep your feet firmly on the footrest.

  • Use the wheel locks to keep the wheelchair steady when getting in and out and when you travel in a van or bus while remaining in your wheelchair.


  • Check the tires for pressure each month.

  • Bring your wheelchair in for regular maintenance and repair.


  • You develop sores on your body from rubbing or prolonged contact with parts of your wheelchair.

  • You have questions or concerns about your wheelchair.