My Experience - Buying a New Wheelchair

Image shows Tracey in her wheelchair next to the sea. She is facing the camera and smiling
Tracey Proudlock (RiDC Trustee)
18 Oct 2021

RiDC Trustee, Tracey Proudlock, talks us through her recent process of buying a wheelchair and gives her top tips.

Here’s my good news – I have just taken delivery of my new wheelchair – a Sunrise Medical Quickie Nitrum.  It’s good news because it fits beautifully and allows me to go about my work and family life unhindered and at pace!

But choosing a new wheelchair can be fraught with problems.

I am lucky because as a trustee of the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RiDC) I have a lot of disabled colleagues who can help with the search and selection. 

RiDC provides independent research for organisations wanting to make their products or services more accessible, through a pan-disability consumer panel of 2.500 people.  We also produce reviews, information and guidance which help disabled and older consumers choose the right option to meet their needs. Our vision is simple – a society that is accessible and inclusive to everyone, regardless of age or ability.

Having been a trustee for nearly six years I have been part of RiDC’s research on stair-lifts and home-lifts and our unique car search fact sheets. This has given me the confidence to ask questions and make decisions about products that make life easier.

The process of buying a new wheelchair

I approached three companies to talk about my needs and eventually invited one company to visit me at home. 

Over a period of time, we discussed my needs for a lightweight wheelchair suitable for work.  Importantly, we talked about safety and looked at some design suggestions that would make it easier for me to transfer sideways on and off a hotel bathroom shower seat.  I have to travel for work and bathrooms can be a problem for me.  My new chair has fixed Slim-Style Sideguards that protect my clothes yet allow me to transfer sideways.

Having a provider visit me at home with some chairs for me to use and test ride (I actually took a few chairs out for a spin in my local park!) was a really important part of the process.

Unless you’ve tried to buy a new wheelchair, you might not realise wheelchairs can be terrifically expensive!  So, it’s important to do your research and to get feedback from other disabled people about their experiences of different suppliers and products.

I started my research about  a year before making a purchase.

I looked at online reviews on Rate My Wheelchair and at the suppliers listed on British Healthcare Trades Association  while all the time talking to friends about their experiences.

Top tips for buying a new wheelchair

Whether you’re buying your first wheelchair or replacing an existing one, it’s important to do your research and get one that is right for you. Here are some tips to help you make the right decision:

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • How often are you going to use the wheelchair? While some wheelchairs are suitable for constant use, others are designed for infrequent and short journeys. You need to choose one that is right for your usage as ones designed for infrequent use will not be durable enough to use every day.
  • Do you need a self-propelled or attendant-propelled wheelchair? Self-propelled wheelchairs have larger back wheels with push-rims which allow you to move around independently. They usually have handles at the back so someone can push you if needed. Even if you don’t propel yourself very often, this style of wheelchair gives you the option. The  attendant version has small rear wheels which you won’t be able to reach.
  • Where will you use the chair? Where you use the wheelchair will determine the size and type of tyres. Pneumatic tyres are good for most environments and offer good shock absorption. However, their pressure needs to be monitored and they can puncture. Solid tyres are good if the chair will be used mainly indoors and are puncture-proof. If you plan to use the chair over rough terrain, look at large tyres with thick treads for a more comfortable ride.
  • Will you need to transport it? If you need to lift a wheelchair into the boot of a car, then opt for a lightweight model or one that can easily be folded. Lighter chairs do tend to be more expensive, so have a look at models which have lots of detachable parts (footplates, arms, wheels) as this will make them easier to lift.

Research the products which meet your needs and make a short-list of any you want to try

Use sites such as Rate My Wheelchair and British Healthcare Trades Association to find accredited suppliers. Also, have a look at online reviews and talk to other wheelchair users.  Find out what they like (and dislike) about their wheelchair and their experiences with suppliers.

Do a test ride. This is really important as you need to make sure you select the right size wheelchair. Some of the things you need to assess include:

  • Seat size: Make sure your weight is evenly distributed over the seat area and that you have sufficient room but can still reach the armrests. Also, make sure the seat depth is right.
  • Adjustable footrests: Are they height adjustable? Can you swing them outwards, inwards or both?  
  • Armrest height and angle: Can they be removed to allow sideways transfers?
  • Backrest: review both the level of padding and the degree of incline.

Let’s talk about money

There are models available, both self-propelled and attendant-propelled, that start around £150 - £250.  My wheelchair cost around £4,500, and there are some that cost more.  This is a vast sum, I know, but mine is in constant use.  As an accessibility consultant, I travel a great deal and am out and about almost every day. 

Happily, there is no VAT to be paid on mobility equipment for disabled people.  I was able to get support from:

NHS Wheelchair Voucher (£1,000)

Access to Work contribution of £2,500

That left me with balance of £1,000. 

RiDC Research and Consumer Panel

I'm a Trustee for RiDC because we believe that products and services from the word go should be inclusive and accessible to everyone. This is why we always start from the perspective of disabled and older consumers.

In fact, RiDC was the first organisation to establish a panel of disabled and older consumers to share their knowledge and experiences to improve access and inclusion for everyone.

RiDC's collaborative approach, coupled with our focus on the social model of disability enables us to deliver only the highest quality research and testing. This ensures the needs and expectations of disabled and older consumers are listened to and factored into any new products or services.   

If you think your company would benefit from feedback on anything you’re doing, please get in touch