Mobility aids come in all shapes and forms, from canes to wheelchairs and more.
However, not all chairs with wheels provide the same function, and there are multiple classifications within wheelchairs. You may have heard of transport chairs, bariatric wheelchairs, pediatric, electric-powered, all-terrain, sports wheelchairs, and more. But what’s the difference between a transport chair vs a wheelchair?
Here we not only discuss the difference between a transport chair and a standard wheelchair but also list their uses and mention who it is ideal for.
What is A Transport Wheelchair?
A transport chair is a mobility aid that looks like a wheelchair but also doubles as a rollator. It has smaller wheels; thus, it is not suitable for manual use. A family member or caregiver will have to push the chair for you, and that is where the chair gets its name from. It is used to transport the elderly with limited mobility from one place to another.
The elderly can also use it as a rollator if they want to get a little exercise. The handles usually feature handbrakes that provide the elderly control over the transport chair, and as it is ultra-lightweight, they have no trouble pushing it either. However, a caretaker should always accompany them to ensure they don’t fall and to help them sit down when they get tired.
Transport Chair Vs. Standard Wheelchair
The two have some very distinct differences, the most obvious one being the wheel size. Where transport chairs have small wheels, standard wheelchairs have large back wheels. The rider can grab onto the wheels on a standard wheelchair and manually propel themselves forward and steer the mobility aid. You cannot steer transport chairs manually because of their design.
Standard wheelchairs tend to be a little bulkier and heavier than transport wheelchairs. The extra weight and larger back wheel ensure the chair doesn’t topple over when the elderly is propelling it forward as that requires the use of bodyweight. Transport chairs are lighter to ensure ease of use for the person pushing the chair.
Both chairs are usually foldable for ease of storage. However, transport chairs fold into an easy to carry, compact package. They are portable, and you can easily stash them in your car trunk to carry with you wherever you go. Standard wheelchair’s bulky back wheels and heavy-duty frame makes it hard to fold it compactly, but most of them are foldable from the middle, making them easier to store.
Transport chairs also come with additional safety features such as a seat belt and handbrakes. The seat belt ensures the elderly is safe and remains securely seated amid transportation. The handbrakes are not only a security feature but also ensure the rider is comfortable even if and when the chair needs to come to a complete halt. They often also feature a caregiver accessible safety lock to keep the chair securely in place when not moving.
Standard wheelchairs don’t come with a seat belt or handbrakes. They do, however, feature a wheel locking system that is easily accessible by the rider or the caregiver. Most standard wheelchairs come with a push-to-lock system that ensures the wheelchair doesn’t wander off.
Whether you are buying a transport chair or a standard wheelchair, here are some factors you need to consider before deciding on which one to purchase.
Buying a Transport Chair vs Wheelchair: What to Look for
When we talk about weight, we don’t just mean the weight of the chair, but also the weight of the user. All wheelchairs have a different maximum weight capacity, and you need to make sure the chair of your choice will be able to support the weight of the user. The weight limit can be anywhere between 200lbs to 350lbs for standard wheelchairs, and around 300lbs, for transport wheelchairs.
For transport chairs, in particular, you have to consider the safety features the chair offers. Most users of transport chairs have limited to almost zero mobility, especially the elderly who also suffer from other health conditions that leave them weak and unable to control the body due to lack of strength and slow reflexes.
A transport chair should have a proper and comfortable braking system. The brakes should bring the wheelchair to a complete halt without any jerks to ensure optimal comfort for the user.
A safety belt is also necessary in case the rider has absolutely little to no control over the body as they are at risk of falling forward. In standard wheelchairs, a safety belt is not a requirement, and most don’t come with one either. But if you can find one that has a belt, then we suggest you go for it.
Another must-have safety feature is the wheel lock. If the elderly is using the chair manually, they may not be able to stop the wheelchair as touching moving wheels can be dangerous. Thus, a strong wheel lock is an absolute must in both transport and standard wheelchairs.
The size and type of wheels matters a lot. Transport chairs have smaller wheels that reduce the weight of the overall chair and make maneuvering a lot easier. However, there is no set measurement for how big or small the wheel can be. You will have to ask the manufacturer or retailer as some wheels are no suitable for use on rough terrain and might not be suitable for outdoor use.
If you do want to use the chair outdoors, then opt for wider wheels as they perform much better on bumpy and uneven surfaces. You will also have to look for wheel material. Ideally, the chair should have non-flat and durable puncture-free tires.
Arm rests can either be full or half-sized. They can be padded or unpadded. When choosing a chair, we suggest you pay extra attention to the armrests, especially if the elderly spends a substantial amount of time in the wheelchair.
Desk length arms are full-length armrests, offering substantial support to the rider’s arms. They are also quite comfortable and might be ideal for those who use the wheelchair for a few hours or more.
Because wheelchair-bound individuals have to remain seated on one for a substantial amount of time, you will have to look for a comfortable wheelchair seat. If the patient has any other issues such as tailbone pain, or hemorrhoids, you may have to get them a special seat cushion, such as a donut cushion.
For seniors who have sensitive skin, you may have to get a gel cushion to keep their buttocks sweat-free and comfortable. Ample cushioning and a comfortable seat frame are some other features to watch out for.
Some seniors may require an extra-wide seat; for them, you might want to look at bariatric wheelchairs.
What is a Bariatric Wheelchair?
Bariatric wheelchairs are for obese individuals or those with bulkier frames. These wheelchairs have a higher maximum weight limit and are wider with spacious seats and an extremely sturdy frame. The weight limit and seat width of bariatric wheelchairs vary by make and model. The seat width can reach up to 32 inches for a wheelchair with a maximum weight capacity of 500lbs.
Transport Chair or Standard Wheelchair – Which is Right for You?
The major difference between a transport and a standard wheelchair is the way it propels forward. While a caretaker has to be present to push the transport chair, a standard wheelchair can be controlled manually.
Transport chairs are a lot more comfortable to use. They feature a narrow and lightweight frame that is easy to maneuver through narrow doorways and halls. The chair is incredibly comfortable – you can opt for one with a padded back and armrests as well.
They are ideal for those looking for a comfortable chair for long hours of use. If you choose one with wide durable tires, you can even take the transport chair on picnics and outdoor trips. The chair is foldable into a compact, easy to carry package.
The conveniently located hand brakes make it easy to handle on slopes. Some even come with seatbelts, ensuring the rider remains securely seated even when on a bumpy ride.
A standard wheelchair might be ideal for seniors who are looking for a manual wheelchair to lead an independent lifestyle. They are heavier than transport chairs but are easily movable. They offer pretty much the same functionality as transport chairs do. However, because they don’t feature handbrakes or a seatbelt, we suggest the elderly should not attempt to travel down slopes by themselves.
Standard wheelchairs are not suitable for those with weaker upper body strength. They will have to use a transport chair and will require the help of a caregiver. Manual wheelchairs may also become a hassle if you travel frequently as folding them and putting them in the car trunk can become challenging, especially if you don’t have anyone to help you.
If you want to lead an independent lifestyle, then you should look for a foldable, lightweight standard wheelchair that gives you the best of both products. Aluminum frame wheelchairs are economical, lightweight, and durable, making them a good option for seniors looking for a lightweight standard wheelchair.