The 10 Best Folding Wheelchairs
This wiki has been updated 17 times since it was first published in October of 2016. Using a mobility device to negotiate uneven terrain and squeak through narrow passages can be tricky enough, but then there's the challenge of finding somewhere to stow your ride when you're not in it. Use a selection from our list of folding wheelchairs to roll on wherever you need to go, and pack it away to take up as little space as possible between uses and during travel. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best folding wheelchair on Amazon.
A Brief History Of Folding Wheelchairs
The first self-propelling chair was created by a 22-year-old paraplegic watchmaker named Stephan Farffler in 1655.
Everest, who broke his back in a mining accident and complained frequently about the bulky wheelchairs of his time, served as a test subject along the way.
Wheeled furniture has existed in China and Greece since at least the 6th century B.C.E., but it was not until three centuries later that wheeled seats were used to transport the disabled, according to records.
The same wheeled seats were used by the Chinese to transport heavy items, especially in work settings. Finally, around 525 C.E., wheeled chairs were designed specifically to move people.
In Europe, the first prominent wheeled chair was created by an unknown Spanish inventor for King Phillip II. This chair boasted support for both the arms and legs, but could not be propelled by the user. Instead, the chair required another person to push it.
The first self-propelling chair was created by a 22-year-old paraplegic watchmaker named Stephan Farffler in 1655. While it looked more like a tricycle than a modern wheelchair, the German's invention paved the way for future innovations, including the so-called Bath chair in 1760, and the rolling chair introduced on Atlantic City's boardwalk in 1887. Invalid tourists rented Atlantic City's rolling chairs, and enjoyed the mobility they provided. The rolling chairs were so successful they eventually became a status symbol, with many healthy tourists hiring the chairs and employing servants to push them along the boardwalk.
It wasn't until 1933 that the first truly modern wheelchair was invented by mechanical engineers Harry Jennings and Herbert Everest. The pair designed a lightweight and collapsible steel wheelchair. Everest, who broke his back in a mining accident and complained frequently about the bulky wheelchairs of his time, served as a test subject along the way. The company they founded, Everest and Jennings, went on to become the world's first mass-marketer of wheelchairs. Today's folding wheelchairs still lean heavily on the duo's original collapsible design. While materials are lighter and more durable now, the appearance of folding wheelchairs is largely the same.
The Basics Of Wheelchair Safety
Proper maintenance is an important step in the safe operation of a folding wheelchair. Not only will a properly maintained wheelchair last longer, but it is also less likely to malfunction and cause injury. See the final section in this guide for more on wheelchair maintenance.
Once you're moving, there are a number of safety considerations.
Another safety basic is remembering to lock the brakes before sitting down in, or getting up from the chair. If you fail to lock the brakes, the chair could roll away, and cause the user to fall. After locking the brakes, always lift the footplates before getting in or out of the chair to prevent tripping or snagging. Before getting in the chair, make certain any removable arm or leg supports are locked in place. Once seated, always secure the hip safety belt, even if you're not planning to go far.
If you're sitting in a non-powered wheelchair, you should also avoid pulling on doors, as they could suddenly release, sending you off balance, and potentially out of the chair. You could also tip over if too much weight is placed on the back of the chair, so be careful when transporting items in rear storage. If your chair has anti-tip bars or wheels, these should never be removed.
Children should be told to avoid playing with the wheelchair, and to stay away from its controls. Even giving them a simple ride could damage the chair or cause an accident.
Once you're moving, there are a number of safety considerations. First, lap covers and any other loose items should be kept away from wheel spokes, where they could tangle and cause the chair to tip or suddenly halt. If you plan to ride in the streets, it is wise to use a flag for added visibility. Similarly, if you ride at night, headlights and flashing tail lights should be used.
Be mindful of steep ground where you could easily lose balance, and when you're moving at higher speeds take note of any casters that flutter. This side to side movement indicates the caster should be replaced. It is advisable to avoid operating your wheelchair in the rain, as well.
The Value Of Wheelchair Maintenance
Regular wheelchair service includes cleaning the chair, securing screws and bolts, checking tire pressure, and replacing worn tires, cushions, pads, and positioning equipment.
Cleaning the chair is critical to preventing bacteria buildup and infections. Usually it is acceptable to wipe down the chair with a damp cloth, but detergents and other cleaners should be used for any spots not easily cleaned with a damp cloth.
Cleaning the chair is critical to preventing bacteria buildup and infections.
Many manufacturers suggest using a car wax on your chair's frame to extend the life of its surfaces and make it easier to clean.
You should keep a sharp tool on hand for removing any gunk from the casters and wheels. The axels and bearings are popular places for hair and thread to accumulate, and over time that can cause trouble and impede the rotation of the casters and wheels. It's best to use the tool regularly, rather than waiting for junk to accumulate. Keep this tool along with any wrenches and screwdrivers you need to maintain your chair in a toolkit. The easier it is to locate the tools necessary for maintenance, the more likely you will be to perform maintenance promptly.
It's essential that you regularly inspect the frame for damage, including bends, cracks and breaks. These should be reported to a wheelchair maintenance professional or dealer, as they may compromise the structural integrity of your chair.
Cushions should also be routinely examined, particularly those that regularly contact the body. Thinning cushions and exposed screws or other metal could cause serious injury over the course of several days or weeks of use.
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