Many types of wheelchairs exist, which are suitable for different kinds of wheelchair users. The main reason for the wide variety of types is the wide range of needs people who use them can have. For example, some wheelchairs are for short-term use (such as in the event of an injury) and others are for long-term use (such as when people are living with a permanent disability).

Wheelchairs and other types of mobility equipment can be difficult to understand. However, broadly speaking, there are two main types of wheelchairs:

  1. Manual wheelchairs: This is a type of wheelchair that is designed to be pushed from behind or by the user physically wheeling themselves along. Manual wheelchairs are easy to push thanks to their ultra-lightweight materials and simple designs, which do not require a bulky battery or motor. Manual chairs are the standard wheelchair type.
  2. Electric wheelchairs: Electric wheelchairs use a motor to move the chair, usually by use of a hand-operated controller – similar to a joystick. Electric wheelchairs are more heavy-duty and are a great option for people who are unable to push themselves or have nobody to push on their behalf. Electric wheelchairs will also have push handles.

There are different subcategories of manual or electric wheelchairs, which we will explore in more detail below. We provide a big selection of electric and manual chairs at our Lewes-based showroom – where you will be able to try out all of the different types. You can also buy all types of wheelchairs online – with free UK delivery. Get in touch if you have any product questions.


Types of Wheelchairs with Manual Propulsion

Manual wheelchair designs can be user-operated, attendant-operated, or both. They usually have a lighter weight than an electric wheelchair as they do not have any powered motor. The absence of a battery and motor also means these types come with a lower cost in comparison to electric wheelchairs.

The following are the sub-types of manual wheelchairs:

  • Transit wheelchairs: Transit wheelchairs are specially-designed for travel over short distances, such as between rooms in a care environment or a hospital. As such, transit wheelchairs are always pushed by someone else. They have brakes and leg braces or other comforts built-in, but they do not have manual propulsion options for the users.
  • Self-propelled wheelchairs: Self-propelled wheelchairs are designed, unsurprisingly, for wheelchair users to propel themselves! This is usually achieved through the use of rear wheel handles that the user can spin to move along the ground, ideal for fairly flat surfaces. These lightweight wheelchairs require a certain level of strength to operate.
  • Active-user wheelchairs: Sometimes called sports wheelchairs, these user-operated chairs are ultra-lightweight and enable the user to travel at speed, accelerate quickly and manoeuvre in a small space. People use these to play sports, with a compressed leg position for a low centre of gravity. These are not usually used at home.
  • Passive wheelchairs: These are used to cater for severe or changing mobility needs, such as in the case of certain kinds of sclerosis or palsy. If mobility and comfort needs change day to day, a passive wheelchair is an ideal option for setting a wheelchair in a perfect configuration – with many possible customisations. They are not self-propelled.

Although manual wheelchairs are not the easiest to push uphill or on rough terrain, several powered-assist devices can fit onto a manual wheelchair. These give you the best of both worlds, which is a great option for people who do not normally require motor assistance to move around in their daily life – but may do so while travelling or during certain strenuous activities.


Types of Wheelchairs with Electric Propulsion

An empty bright green electric wheelchair sits by a river inside a tunnel

Electric wheelchair designs are largely meant for independence and worry-free travel. The user will operate it themselves, but every electric wheelchair also has a manual push option. Unlike manual wheelchairs, electric wheelchairs will not be available without some form of user control. Many designs look similar to their manual counterparts and may be self-propelled too.

The following are the sub-types of electric wheelchairs:

  • Transportable: Also known as travel or folding wheelchairs, this is a design to take in a car, train, plane, boat or other vehicles. They offer the typical electric motor-propelled functionality but with the convenience of collapsing the chair in a small space, which can then be stowed in the boot of a car. Many have automatic folding mechanisms.
  • Indoor: For short motor-propelled movement indoors these chairs are ideal. They use simple, lightweight frames, small wheels and moderately-powered motors so they are good for people who do not wish to spend much on an electric wheelchair. However, there are more advanced indoor-only models with customisations that will cost more.
  • Indoor and outdoor: For dual use in a range of areas, indoor/outdoor designs are the only choice. If you are using a chair in outdoor environments such as a paved street, open-air shopping centre, park or similar space, these types of wheelchairs offer enough power and durable wheels. They will often work in certain offroad settings too.
  • Outdoor only: Outdoor electric designs are rugged terrain wheelchairs that are meant primarily for use on streets, grass, earth or other uneven surfaces. Outdoor-only wheelchairs have larger motors to navigate the terrain, as well as more rugged wheels and a longer-lasting battery – as they require a much larger range for safe use.

Some types of outdoor-only wheelchairs are meant specifically for use in activities such as mountain climbing and other adventure sports. These are a completely different type of electric wheelchair and will not be suitable for daily activities like shopping or running errands. Electric wheelchairs are almost always more expensive than manual versions.


What Type of Wheelchair is Easiest to Push?

Class 3 mobility scooters

The easiest type of wheelchair to push is a transit wheelchair or transportable wheelchair. These types of wheelchairs are only designed for short trips and have manual movement options, so they are particularly lightweight and easy for a person to push. Active-user wheelchairs are also very easy to manoeuvre, with fast wheels, but they are not primarily designed to be pushed.


Try and Buy All Types of Wheelchairs in Our Showroom

If you are unsure of what the different types of wheelchairs feel like to use or what kind is best suited to your mobility requirements, we can help. Simply take a trip to our Lewes-based showroom, where our friendly staff will be delighted to let you try out all the different options.

You can also buy all types of wheelchairs we describe above online from our amazing shop, with free UK delivery, free home demonstration and top-notch aftercare. If you have a question about any of our wheelchairs please feel free to get in touch with us to learn more.