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differences between a wheelchair vs transport chair

Transport Chair vs Wheelchair: Which One Do You Really Need?

Unfortunately, as we get older our physical abilities change. This results in a decline in our ability to walk long distances. Sometimes, a wheelchair becomes necessary for day to day mobility. There are a number of options these days for seniors who need to rely on wheeled mobility products for daily mobility. This is good news for people who need the help, but it can also make shopping for these types of supplies more confusing. Because there are so many options, it’s important to know the differences between them and which ones to use to best enhance your life. To help you with that, I've compared a transport chair vs a wheelchair to determine the best use for each piece of equipment.

Visual Differences Between a Wheelchair and a Transport Chair

Drive Medical Cruiser III wheelchair

images courtesy of drivemedical.com

Standard Manual Wheelchair

travel chair from Drive Medical

Transport Wheelchair

Standard Manual Wheelchairs

People use wheelchairs because of all types of physical injuries, illnesses or incapacities. A wheelchair can be a long term addition to people’s lives or a short term support for an injury. Wheelchairs offer users independence and mobility. They even improve the chance of living a fairly normal life when legs are unable to carry their weight. There are a number of different types of wheelchairs, customized to body types, physical limitations or care needs. If you have a specific condition it’s probably a good idea to see if there are any options for your particular challenges.

large rear wheel on a wheelchair

Large Rear Wheels of Wheelchairs

There are many different kinds of wheelchairs, but all of them allow the user the opportunity to control their own movements. Manual wheelchairs have very large back wheels with handrims. The user moves the wheelchair themselves by pushing on these handrims. No matter what physical limitations you have, there is probably an option that would allow you to maintain as much independence as possible.

Wheelchairs do not fold up small though because of these large back wheels. So, friends and family may have trouble fitting them in the back of their car. They can also be quite heavy - about 40 pounds - although there are lighter weight options available. It may be difficult for some people to lift and this should be a consideration for those who spent a lot of time in cars. 

When to Use a Wheelchair

When deciding if a wheelchair is a good option for you, there are a number of issues you should consider.

  • Your physical abilities today and in the future. To use a wheelchair, you need to have good strength in your arms and upper body to move yourself around. If you have injuries or weakness in your arms, or a condition that will cause limitations in this area in the future, than a wheelchair is probable not a good long term option for you.
  • Why do you need the wheelchair? If you can walk around your home with few problems, but need a wheelchair for outings with family, than a transport chair might be a better option. Wheelchairs are mostly useful for people who rarely walk on their own but still want to be independent and continue their social outings with minimal assistance from others.
  • Do you need specific features? Wheelchairs offer many more options than transport chairs. The choice of options makes manual wheelchairs more comfortable than transport chairs. If you have a specific injury or limitations, a wheelchair can usually be designed to meet your needs.
transport chair on the beach

Transport Chairs

A transport chair is a lightweight form of a wheelchair that allows for easy mobility, storage and portability. They have a similar weight capacity as a wheelchair, but are usually much lighter depending on their construction and materials. They are typically used for short trips and load easily in and out of the car. This allows the user to participate in many of the activities of daily life that require longer stretches of walking. Transport chairs are usually a little cheaper than wheelchairs as well due to their basic nature and are a good option for people who are on a tighter budget. Check out this article for more info on the advantages and disadvantages of transport wheelchairs.

Small Rear Wheels on Transport Chairs

Unlike a wheelchair, a transport chair has four small wheels which means that the user cannot propel themselves. Users of transport chairs must be pushed by a second person. These types of chairs are usually made of lighter weight materials like aluminum. Seats are made from fabric and plastic. Most transport chairs fold up small enough to fit into most cars without any trouble.

Transport chairs are not really meant for all day use. The seats aren’t padded and become uncomfortable with time although you can buy cushions or other supports to help with this. Transport chairs are also a fairly basic chair with limited or no additional options. Some surface features can be customized to individual requirements but they are basically all the same functionally.

When to use a Transport Chair

Before buying a transport chair, you need to determine if it fits with your needs. If you and your situation fit with the following criteria, a transport chair is a good option for you.

  • You have a family member or caregiver who is always available to assist you, because you can’t move transport chairs on your own. With this kind of help, a transport chair will help you to maintain your shopping routine, attend your doctor’s appointments, and allow you to go on family outings that require a lot of walking.
  • Your caregiver has enough strength and car space to lift and store the chair for these outings.
  • You have generalized weakness due to the processes of aging, disease or illnesses and don’t really have the strength to propel or turn a heavy chair.
folded up manual wheelchair

Transport Chair vs Wheelchair: Final Thoughts

Nobody wants to have to use transport chairs or wheelchairs but they are sometimes a necessary part of life. Finding the best option for your present and future needs means understanding the best uses of each type of chair. Another important part of the wheelchair buying process is being honest with yourself about your physical capabilities and limitations. There is no shame in needing help. If the right chair can help you better interact with the world or otherwise improve the quality of your life, than it’s well worth the purchase.

About the Author Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

I work daily with seniors and the elderly in my position as a wheelchair specialist at a home medical company. I see the struggle they have maintaining their independence and living their daily lives. Most are completely unaware of the options and products out there that can improve their independence, mobility, and safety in their home. I created this site to help seniors, elders, and their caregivers make smart buying decisions about the many independent living aids on the market.

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