How Wide is a Standard Wheelchair

Do you have a serious mobility issue?  Have you been considering investing in a wheelchair to help you counter it and make getting around easier?  If you answered yes to those questions, one of the first questions that tends to arise from that line of thinking is, ‘how wide is a standard wheelchair?’

It’s a logical question and a good place of beginning, but unfortunately, there is no set industry standard where the overall width is concerned.  Instead, what you find is that wheelchairs tend to exist in a range from about 21” in the case of the smallest transport chairs, to 40” for some heavy-duty bariatric chairs.  While these numbers are a good starting point, there are a number of other measurements you’ll want to keep in mind as you evaluate your options.  Below, we’ll give you the full scoop!

The You Factor

The first and most important measurement is you.  After all, you’re going to be the one sitting in the chair and given that, it’s got to be comfortable and a good fit for you.  Given that, before you even consider making a purchase, take a quick measurement of yourself. 

How wide are your hips?

Whatever the measurement reveals, add another 1-2” for comfort, and this is how wide your wheelchair should be.

The Door Factor

Another important measure to consider is the width of the doorways in your home, because ideally, your wheelchair will be wide enough to be comfortable for you, and simultaneously narrow enough to fit through the doorways in your home or apartment.

Unfortunately, household doorways aren’t as standardized as you might think, so you’ll want to measure your to see what you’re working with.  Typically, interior doorways measure 23-27,” which means that many doorways are too narrow for most wheelchairs to fit comfortably through.

If your home is equipped with doorways that meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines, they’ll be at least 32” wide, in which case you’ll have a much easier time navigating through your house.

Other Important Measurements To Consider

Width isn’t the only thing you should be thinking about when considering a wheelchair for purchase.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the other important measurements:

Seat To Floor Height

The Big and Tall chair height range starts at 18” and goes up to 22” or higher.

If you’re taller, you’ll definitely want a wheelchair with a seat at least 18” off the ground.  The best thing to do here is to find a “regular” chair you can sit in comfortably and use that as a general guide.

Seat Depth

Take a measurement of the length of your leg from the back of your hip to the back of your knee.  Subtract one inch.  This is a good indication of the seat depth you’ll need to sit comfortably in the chair.

Armrest Height

This measure is somewhat less important than the others, but it still matters, especially if you’re going to be spending extended periods of time in the chair.

Ideally, you should be able to sit up straight in the chair with your arms at a 90-degree angle, then measure from the bottom of your arm to the seat.  That’s the height the armrests should be.  Your best bet, though, is to spend a bit extra and get a wheelchair that has adjustable armrests so you can tweak them to taste.

Back Height

Although most wheelchairs don’t offer any kind of ergonomic support, the mere existence of a properly sized seatback will help you sit more comfortably for extended periods.

Take a measure from your shoulder blades to the base of your spine to get a feel for how high the seatback should be.

If you keep all of these measurements firmly in mind while you’re shopping for your wheelchair, you’ll have all the information you need to find a chair that’s a perfect fit for you.

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