Choosing a Standard Self-Propelled Wheelchair


A large number of different types of wheelchair are available on the market, for the simple reason that chairs are required to fulfill a number of different functions.

There are three different types of wheelchair: self-propelled, electric, and attendant-propelled. This Information Sheet concentrates on the first category but other types of chair are referred to so that the user can make an informed choice from the wide range available. The terms standard user and active user are frequently referred to as types of wheelchair. Active user chairs are those which can be set up quite specifically to meet the needs of the user in many different ways. This makes a big difference to the ease of use of a chair and is of great benefit to someone who relies on a wheelchair day in and day out. Chairs that do not have this level of adjustability are referred to as standard wheelchairs.

The first section considers the user's basic needs in relation to the features of self-propelled vehicles, while the second contains information on the different types of self-propelled chairs and the options that will influence the user's choice of one model as opposed to another. This is followed by a section on self-propelled chairs with special features and notes on general 'using' issues such as maintenance. The final section deals with the provision of equipment.

Self-propelled chairs, as their name implies, are propelled by the user and are primarily for daily living including sport. In general, these chairs are lighter, more easily transportable and easier to maintain than electric chairs, although many people, and not only those who are unable to propel themselves, find electric wheelchairs or scooters more convenient if, for instance, they find it difficult to transfer into a car to go to the local shops. For related information, see the Assist Ireland Information Sheets 'Choosing a Powered Wheelchair' and 'Choosing a Scooter or Buggy'.

One solution may be to use a self-propelled chair inside the house and have an electric chair for outdoor use as well.

If a self-propelled model proves unsuitable, then an attendant-propelled wheelchair could be considered. For more information, see the Assist Ireland Information Sheet 'Choosing an Attendant-Propelled Wheelchair'.

Any chair with large rear wheels is easier to push, especially up and down kerbs, than an 'attendant-propelled' chair with the small rear wheels. Therefore, users may buy, or be issued with, a standard 'self-propelled' chair solely to be pushed around by someone else.

The lightest and most manoeuvrable wheelchairs on the market are the high performance chairs. They have large rear wheels that can be positioned further forward than those on a standard wheelchair. As a result of this modification, weight is redistributed so that less effort is needed to propel or push this type of chair. The reduced weight is also an advantage when the chair has to be transported, and the user might choose an active user chair in preference to a standard self-propelled chair or an electric vehicle if the wheelchair has to be carried frequently in an unsuitable or adapted vehicle.

Active user wheelchairs can be expensive, and users who cannot afford or justify the cost of such a chair often opt for a standard manual chair. This Information Sheet describes the features of any wheelchair that increase its manoeuvrability, especially if it is going to be pushed outside. Some of the features are only available on active user chairs, others are beginning to be incorporated onto the standard models and can be found if the user 'shops around', eg some have their large rear wheels fixed further forward so that the weight is redistributed as mentioned above.

Always consider carefully before choosing a specific model, and ensure that the user has tried the wheelchair around the house and over local routes so that difficulties can be sorted out.

The information contained in this document is strictly for information purposes only. There are hazards with all equipment and the suitability of any solution is totally dependent on the individual. It is strongly recommended to seek professional advice and assistance before you consider buying any type of equipment mentioned in this Information Sheet.


A stable seating base

Even though users may not need to propel the wheelchair any great distance, a stable seating base will enable them to carry out daily living tasks as independently as possible. It is much easier to eat, use a communication aid and transfer to and from the wheelchair from a stable symmetrical seating base.

A small number of people who use wheelchairs may never fully develop the ability to sit unaided. Others may gradually lose the ability, perhaps as the result of a progressive disabling condition. For people with mild to moderate seating difficulties, the correct size and positioning of the wheelchair seat unit components may be all that is needed to provide the user with a stable seating base. Users with complex needs may require a specialised seating system.

The following factors need to be considered.

Arrows indicating the width of a user for choosing an appropriate seat size

Seat size

Maximum stability will be achieved if the user's body fits comfortably into the chair seat. If his/her weight is evenly distributed over the largest area possible, this will also provide pressure relief.

If the seat is too wide, users often sit asymmetrically (lean more to one side) in order to feel supported. If the seat is too narrow, it will be uncomfortable and increase the risk of pressure sores.

If the seat is too short, the full length of the thighs will not be supported and too much pressure will be transferred onto the buttocks.

Illustration of correct seat depth

If the seat is too long, it may cause undue pressure behind the knee, and the user may not get adequate support from the backrest.

Active user chairs are often available with a range of seat depths and widths.

Shape and angle of seat

The seat needs to be level. A sagging wheelchair seat canvas will cause users to sit asymmetrically or with their thighs and knees rolled together. This may cause undue pressure and 'shearing' - the term used when the outer layer of skin is pulled in a certain direction while distorting and restricting the underlying blood vessels. This may lead to pressure sores.

When maintaining a good seating posture the angle between the thighs and the trunk is critical as it determines the stability of the pelvis. An angle of 90° is considered best for most people for daily activities. Using a contoured or ramped seat or cushion, ie very slightly lower at the back to accommodate the shape of the buttocks, is the easiest way of achieving this.

All wheelchair users should be sitting on a cushion which has been chosen at the same time as the wheelchair and fits its seat. Full-time wheelchair users will probably need a pressure relief cushion; occasional users may only need one for comfort. For more information, see the Assist Ireland Information Sheet 'Choosing Pressure Relief Equipment'.

To fully stabilise the lower body, the foot support needs to be considered next.

Footrest length

If an angle of 90° between the user's thighs and hips is achieved, most people will be comfortable if their knees are also at an angle of approximately 90°.

Arrows showing the length of the user's lower legs for appropriate footrest adjustment

The height of the footrests on the wheelchair should be set so that they support the legs and feet and, in turn, the underside of the thighs. This will reduce further pressure on the buttocks. If the footrests are too high or the seat too low, the user's knees will be higher than the hips so that pressure under the buttocks is increased.

If the footrests are too low, or the seat too high, the user's knees will be lower than the hips and pressure will build up under the thighs.

Footrest angle

For users with long legs, some wheelchairs have footrests that are set out at a wider angle in front, so that the leg length can be accommodated without hindering activities such as kerb climbing.

Footplate angle

The angle of some footplates (ie the flat plate at the end of the footrest on which the feet are placed) can sometimes be adjusted. Feet can be very strong stimulators of muscle contractions of the whole body, and may cause total extension patterns, or tremor spasms in the legs. This is a common problem experienced by users with MS (multiple sclerosis). By making the footrest/footplate angle less than 90°, the user's feet are prevented from slipping forwards and down off the footplates. This also stretches the calf muscles and may inhibit extension patterns and spasms.

Backrest height

Arrows showing the length of the upper lumbar region for appropriate backrest support

The upper body is stabilised by the support from the backrest, which should be high enough to stabilise the upper lumbar region. Above this level, the backrest height is a matter of individual need and/or personal preference.

Some users find that if they have a stable seating base they only need a backrest that comes halfway up their back but the disadvantage of a wheelchair with a small backrest is that pushing handles are often too low for an attendant to push comfortably. Some chairs have adjustable-height push handles to overcome this problem.

Backrest shape and angle

Most users will benefit from a backrest with an appropriately shaped lumbar area. This combined with a suitable backrest angle should provide support and balance for the upper body.

Arm support

In theory, if someone has a stable seating base, then he/she should not need armrests. Armrests should not to be used to help someone to stay in the chair – if this is the case, the user's seating base should be reassessed. A more sophisticated seating system may be necessary. However, armrests provide useful rest and stabilising positions for users who tire rapidly and/or those whose upper limb neck or neck muscles are weak.

Armrest height

Arrows showing the appropriate distance between elbow and knee for appropriate positioning of armrests

When armrests are properly adjusted they should support the user's forearms comfortably with the elbows at 90°. If they are too high, the user's shoulders will be hunched; if they are too low, the user will tend to slump to one side.

Armrests also provide an appropriate surface to push down on for users who stand up directly from their wheelchairs. However, they do make approaching tables and work surfaces difficult and often have to be removed for transfers.

Having sorted out the seating base on the wheelchair, the next thing to consider is the type and set up of the wheelbase. It is often thought that the weight and the material from which the wheelchair frame is made are the main factors, which affect the manoeuvrability of the chair. In fact, it is the size and position of the wheels. These affect weight distribution, the rolling resistance and, therefore, the manoeuvrability and the amount of energy needed to propel the wheelchair.

A chair that is easy to manoeuvre

The ability to back-wheel balance has an important effect on manoeuvrability. To do this, the user balances the chair on the large rear wheels so that the front castors are lifted clear of the ground. This makes it easier for him/her to negotiate kerbs or avoid small obstacles such as an uneven surface or grids. 'Tippiness' is the term sometimes used to describe the ease with which the chair can achieve this balance.

Wheelchair users may be able to tip themselves back to find the balance point of any wheelchair, but the ease and safety with which they carry out this manoeuvre can vary considerably. The wheels on many standard wheelchairs tend to be set quite far back so that more leverage, and therefore more energy, is needed to lift the castors off the ground. To find the balance point of a standard manual chair, the castors have to be lifted quite a long way off the ground so that the chair is leaning backwards at quite a dramatic angle! Active user wheelchairs have a multi-adjustable axle plate which allows the wheels to be set further forward under the user's body. This not only affects the leverage but also the distribution of weight over the wheels, which, in turn, affects the 'tippiness' of the chair.

Standard wheelchair with rear wheels set quite far back

Standard wheelchair tipped back

Active user wheelchair with rear wheels set not far back

Active user wheelchair in tipped position

The higher the percentage of weight placed over the back wheels, the easier it is to lift the front castors off the ground. When the rear wheels of a wheelchair are moved forward, more weight is placed over them. Most standard wheelchairs have a weight distribution of 40:60 front to back wheel ratio, high performance wheelchairs have a 30:70 ratio.

This weight distribution also affects the rolling resistance, ie how much energy is lost during pushing. This can be calculated by dividing the weight of the wheelchair by the area of the wheel that is in contact with the ground. The area of large rear wheels in contact with the ground is approximately twice as much as that of small front castor wheels (eg 10mm: 5mm).

The average active user wheelchair weighs 12kg and the weight is distributed 30:70 front to back wheel. Calculated in the way described above, this type of wheelchair has a rolling resistance of 1.5.

If a standard, self-propelled wheelchair weighs 18kg, and if the weight is distributed 40:60 front to back, using the same calculation, the rolling resistance of this type of wheelchair is 2.5.

To achieve the minimum rolling resistance, therefore, as much weight as possible needs to be placed over the larger back wheels without compromising stability.

Illustration of correct weight distribution to minimise rolling

An energy-conserving chair

Most standard self-propelled wheelchairs have a 20-22in (51cm-56cm) rear wheel. High performance chairs usually have 24in (61cm) wheels and can have 26in (66cm) wheels. Therefore, using the previous calculation without taking into account any other influencing factor, high performance wheels are shown to have less rolling resistance since a larger area of the wheels is in contact with the ground, so that the chair is easier to propel.

The length of the wheelbase will also affect how much energy is needed to manoeuvre a chair. As the length is decreased, the turning circle is also shortened, with the result that less energy is needed to turn.

The position of the rear wheels also affects the amount of energy needed for propelling. If the wheels are set with their axles in a vertical line with the user's shoulders, the maximum push with the minimum amount of energy expenditure can be achieved. This also reduces the amount of wear and tear on the user's shoulder joints.

A chair that is easy to steer

If a chair's rear wheels can be cambered (ie angled towards the chair at the top) the effort required to propel the chair across a slope in a straight line will be reduced dramatically. Anyone who regularly pushes outdoors and has to tackle pavements will therefore benefit from cambered wheels.

Wheelchair with standard wheels

Wheelchair with cambered wheels

Cambered wheels also increase the ease with which the user can turn the wheelchair. For everyday use, camber up to 5° is acceptable. Beyond this, the chair often becomes too wide so that going through narrow spaces, eg doorways and small bathrooms, becomes difficult.

People who use a wheelchair for sport may camber the wheels at more than 5° so that they can guide the chair with greater ease and accuracy.

A chair that is easy to transport

Wheelchairs can be cumbersome and heavy to lift for transportation. Chairs with a cross-bracing mechanism underneath the seat can be folded and made lighter by removing legrests and armrests if possible. Rigid-framed chairs too can be dismantled if the quick release wheels are removed, the backrest is folded down and the armrests are removed etc. For more information, see the Assist Ireland Information Sheet 'Out and about with your Wheelchair'.

A chair that is versatile/adaptable

A persons' body shape and size and his/her disabilities do not always remain static. As changes occur, the wheelchair requirements may also change. Standard wheelchairs can seldom be adapted and a different wheelchair would therefore be needed. Many active user wheelchairs have interchangeable component parts that make them more versatile and adaptable.

A chair that meets the carer's needs

Many users of self-propelled wheelchairs are able to get themselves in and out of cars and buildings independently. However, some users may rely on someone else to load the wheelchair in and out of the car, or maybe to push them round in it, at least for part of the time.

If the person who is pushing the wheelchair is also the carer, it is especially important, once the user' needs have been met, to take into account as many of the carer's needs as possible are taken into account. By reducing energy expenditure and increasing the chair's manoeuvrability and transportability, life will be made easier and the risk of back injury minimised. In addition, it should be possible for the carer to take the wheelchair user to a great many places that previously seemed either difficult to get to, or even inaccessible.

A chair that makes the user look good and feel confident

A chair that is energy efficient and looks aesthetically pleasing will inspire confidence in the user.




Steel - strong, cheap but heavy.

Aluminium - light and not too expensive.

Folding frame - has a cross-brace mechanism underneath the seat canvas which enables the wheelchair to be folded flat for easier storage and transportation. Less suitable for very active users as the flexibility of the frame demands that they use more energy.

Compact folding frame - folds up to a smaller size than the average folding frames so can be stored in small places.

Rigid frame - tends to be lighter and stronger than a folding frame but not so easy to transport. Most appropriate for active user and outdoor use as energy is not lost through movement of the frame.

Tipping levers

Enable an attendant to assist in kerb climbing. Anti-tip levers prevent a wheelchair tipping backwards beyond a certain point if no attendant is pushing the chair.



Pneumatic - offer a better shock absorption than solid ones but may puncture.

Puncture-proof - filled with a jelly like substance; need less maintenance.

Solid - hard-wearing but can provide a rougher ride.

Detachable drive wheels

Useful to reduce the weight/size of the wheelchair for storing and transporting. In general, the larger the wheels, the less effort is needed to propel.



Can get in the way when transferring but tend to be more durable and less likely to become damaged.


Can be moved out of the way for transferring.


Reduce size/weight of the wheelchair for storing and transporting.


For users who need to have their legs raised for longer periods, or to keep them straight.



Allow access to work surface, but do not provide much arm support.


Can be adjusted to provide maximum support.


May be more convenient for someone who needs to transfer sideways than detachable ones that can be mislaid.


Reduces size/weight of wheelchair for storing and transportation.



Angle and height of backrest affect posture.

Folds backwards/forwards

Useful when storing and transporting.

Pushing handles

Many are an integral part of the backrest frame - others are an optional extra.


A good idea if a person is assisting as they can be positioned to reduce backache during prolonged pushing.



It is vital that the user is accurately assessed for the correct seat size, as this will determine posture and comfort.


A lighter wheelchair is usually an advantage for both an active user and a carer.


Sometimes standard wheelchairs do not provide adequate support or features to accommodate a person's disability. In such cases consideration should be given to wheelchairs with special features.


This is the generic name given to a range of chairs which offer more comfort and support to the user. They are not as easy to handle and manoeuvre as other chairs. They have padded and contoured seats and backrests and may incorporate a range of features such as reclining backrest, tilt-in-space. They may have self-propelling rims or be attendant-propelled.


One-arm-drive wheelchairs

Te left and right wheel axles are linked and a double hand rim is located on one wheel to enable these wheelchairs to be propelled by using only one arm. Use of both hand rims will propel the wheelchair forward; used singly they will turn it to the left or the right. Many people find this type of wheelchair difficult to use. They tend to be heavier than standard wheelchairs and the user needs a great deal of strength and co-ordination. Negotiating slopes and hills is almost impossible. A brake extension lever is usually needed for the 'weaker' side and the user will need to stretch across to operate the lever.

Low-seat wheelchairs

Low-seat wheelchairs enable their occupants to propel and steer using their feet. If the wheelchair is to be propelled solely by feet, an attendant-only propelled type chair could be considered, as these tend to be lighter than the self-propelled variety.

Only one footrest may be necessary if support is needed for a weaker leg. In this case, an extra support may have to be attached to the legrest to prevent the leg from slipping sideways. If both feet are to be used to propel the chair, neither footrest will be needed and the height of the seat should enable the user to place both feet firmly on the floor. Unfortunately, this type of propulsion will probably prevent the user from maintaining a good, stable seating posture. Compromises may have to be made. If the user tends to slide forwards out of the seat, then a trunk or pelvic support should be considered.

If the chair is to be used mainly indoors, a castor chair, which often has a low seat and tends to be lighter than a standard wheelchair, could be considered.

Lever-propelled wheelchairs

Lever-propelled wheelchairs may have a hand lever on the left or right or both sides of the seat and users propel the wheelchairs with push/pull action. The lever is connected to the front castors for steering. With the two-levered chairs, the levers are pushed and pulled alternately which enables the user to build up more speed. As is the case with the one-arm drive wheelchairs, some users find the lever-operated chairs difficult to use, and they demand quite a lot of strength and co-ordination on the part of the user. These chairs are difficult to propel over rough ground and up slopes. Brake lever extensions may be needed for the 'weaker' side.

Lever-propelled wheelchair


If all or part of someone's leg has been removed, that person's centre of gravity will change. This may unbalance the wheelchair and there is a danger that it may tip backwards. To prevent this, the wheels must be set back. Chairs with this feature are available.


This feature would be needed by a user who:

  • is unable to sit up because of weak muscles in the upper body, or a stiff spine or hip,
  • needs to change position during the time spent in the wheelchair,
  • has difficulty breathing,
  • is receiving treatment that requires him or her to be in a reclining or semi-reclining position.

If the user needs to recline fully, check that the backrest can be so adjusted. Some models are only semi-reclining.

When contemplating a wheelchair with a reclining backrest, the user will need to consider the following.


Check that there is enough room in the house to manoeuvre such a chair. Once the backrest is reclined and the legs elevated, it is very long.


  • some of these chairs have self-propelling wheels, their weight combined with the angle of backrest makes it impossible for users to propel them. Someone else may need to push them.
  • care should be taken when wheeling the wheelchair outside in the reclined position. Negotiating kerbs in this position is virtually impossible.

Reclining mechanism

Check whether the mechanism can be operated by the user. Users will need to have good upper body strength as they will have to sit up before the backrest can be moved. If the chair is attendant operated, can the mechanism be operated with the person in it?


Check whether the legrests can be operated by the user, who may wish to sit in an upright position with legs outstretched. Most have to be adjusted by someone else.

Transporting in a car

It is virtually impossible to get reclining wheelchairs into a car because the high backrest does not fold and the chairs are very heavy to lift.


A tilt-in-space seat unit in a chair enables the seat and backrest angles to remain fixed while both are tilted backwards. This type of unit may be appropriate for people with complex seating needs with poor trunk and head control. It is important to seek advice from a relevant professional or wheelchair service provider on whether this feature is suitable for the user’s needs.

Illustration of tilt-in-space mechanism


Wheelchairs with a stand-up mechanism can stabilise the user in the wheelchair so that the seat and backrest can flatten out, lifting the occupant to a near vertical position. The mechanism is usually controlled by the occupant.

These chairs enable users to be more independent as they can reach items at a higher level. Users find that these chairs give them a psychological boost as they make it possible for them to carry out activities on the same level as other people. They may also benefit the user's health, for instance by providing some pressure relief and improving circulation and the digestive system.

However, medical advice must be sought before trying one. People who have not stood for a long time may find that their legs are not strong enough to take their body weight. Fainting may be another risk.

The stand-up mechanism adds weight to the wheelchair so that it is harder to push and is more difficult to lift and transport.


On some models the seat height alone can be adjusted to enable the user to reach higher levels. If the user needs help to stand, the front of the seat needs to be angled downwards so that the feet can be placed flat on the floor. A powered or mechanical mechanism will lift the back of the seat to an angle, which will enable the user to stand up. Both self-propelling and attendant-only propelled versions are available. It must be noted that the seat-lifting mechanisms add weight to the wheelchair, which will therefore be more difficult to propel. Units, which replace the existing seat, are available so that a wheelchair can be adapted.


Most wheelchairs are available with a range of options and these are configured to meet the users needs. In some cases companies are able to adapt a wheelchair to meet special requirements, for example they can reinforce the frame, provide an extra wide or deep seat, lower or higher seat, various backrest angles, and extend the wheelbase.



Although it is important to have wheelchairs regularly checked and serviced by an approved repairer, regular maintenance should also be carried out at home to keep it in good, safe working order. If the wheelchair has been obtained through the local wheelchair service, it should always be provided with a manual on how to care for it. If bought privately, this information should be sought from and provided by the manufacturer or retailer.

Before any major repairs are carried out at home, it is advisable to check that the terms of guarantee are not being invalidated.

The following is a brief maintenance guide for standard self-propelling wheelchairs. For additional details, contact the supplier.


  • The pressure in the tyres should be checked weekly. Use a tyre pressure gauge and pump to the correct pressure, marked on the tyre side. Do not use an air line at a local garage.
  • Check for punctures or weak/cracked tread. Change the tyre if necessary. A bicycle repair shop maybe able to assist if replacement tyres are needed.

The following should be checked every month:Wheels

Check they are free spinning. If they wobble, loosen and take off the lock-nut and tighten the axle bolt.


Check for loose or broken spokes. Tighten loose spokes so that they are the same tension as the others. Replace broken spokes.

Hand rims

Check for rough or sharp edges. Sand or file down if necessary.


  • Check they are not coming loose. Reposition or tighten using screwdriver or spanner.
  • Check that the brakes and tyres are making contact. If necessary, pump up tyres to correct pressure.
  • Check that they are lubricated. Use silicon spray not oil or grease.


Check that pivot parts are lubricated and that heel loops are securely anchored.


Check for sharp edges.

Push handle grips

Check that they are secure.


  • Check for small dents or cracks – these can affect the frame strength.
  • Dirt should be removed with a damp cloth. In winter, to prevent corrosion, check for and regularly remove salt which might have been picked up from the roads.

Fork stem bearings

These should be checked every three months. Ensure that the axle bolt and nut allow the castor fork to swivel freely. If it is too loose, the wheelchair becomes difficult to steer.


Medical Card Holders

Equipment for people with disabilities, sometimes referred to as aids and appliances, is usually supplied free of charge to medical card holders. The card holder must first be assessed by a suitably qualified therapist who can recommend and prescribe the most appropriate equipment.

Long Term Illness Card Holders

People who have one of the conditions listed as qualifying under the Department of Health’s Long Term Illness Scheme may be eligible to receive items of equipment, essential for the primary condition, free of charge. Assessment by the relevant professional is required.

Hospital Treatment

People in hospital may have aids and appliances provided free of charge when they are prescribed as part of in-hospital treatment in a public hospital.

Health Insurance Schemes

The main companies offering private health insurance in Ireland are:

  • Voluntary Health Insurance (VHI)
  • Irish Life Health
  • Laya Healthcare
  • GloHealth

Depending on the policy, there may be cover for a limited number of aids and appliances under their out-patient schemes. A list of approved appliances is available on request. A claim for the reimbursement (part or full) will be subject to a member’s out-patient excess. Medical certification is usually necessary. Contact your health insurance company’s Customer Services to check if a particular appliance is covered by your policy.

Some employers have their own special health insurance schemes which provide cover for their employees. The employee’s family is also often covered. Check with the employer to see what, if any, equipment is covered under the scheme.


Depending on the type of equipment required, a qualified therapist will assess the individual and make a recommendation to the body responsible for the provision of the equipment or to the person or agency who has requested the assessment. Generally the following applies, but the assessment process and provision may vary in different parts of the country.

  • Occupational therapists will assess for aids to daily living – these include wheelchairs, mobility aids, specialised chairs, bath, shower and toilet aids, stairlifts, hoists etc
  • physiotherapists will assess for movement, strength and balance training equipment, walking aids and exercise devices
  • speech and language therapists will assess for communication, speech therapy, and training aids
  • other relevant therapists and specialists may also be involved in carrying out assessments, depending on the equipment or appliance required.

All the different therapists described above are based in hospitals, community care areas, and with various voluntary agencies. For more information, contact the Community Care section of your Health Services Executive area or the relevant hospital department as appropriate.


Private hire

Quite a variety of equipment, including wheelchairs, hospital beds, hoists and a variety of walking aids, can be hired for daily, weekly or monthly periods. Many of the companies and voluntary organisations that provide this service can be found in the Golden Pages under ‘Disabled Persons Products & Services’, or your local public health nurse or community occupational therapist.

Before you choose to hire, consider the following:

  • Does the company provide a delivery and/or collection service and, if so, are there any additional charges?
  • Does the company ask for a deposit and is it refundable?
  • If hiring long term, is the vehicle subject to a six-monthly service and, if so, will a replacement wheelchair be supplied in the mean time?
  • Who is responsible for maintenance if you have a puncture, for example if you are hiring for holiday use, are you permitted to take the vehicle overseas? Are there additional charges, and/or an increase in the deposit needed?
  • Are you obliged to take out insurance? Is this included in the price, and what does the insurance cover?
  • When hiring a wheelchair, make sure you understand how to operate it and feel confident using it; and make sure you receive instructions on how to charge the batteries (if required) and carry out other simple maintenance.


A Shopmobility scheme operates in Liffey Valley Shopping Centre in Clondalkin, Mahon Point Shopping Centre in Cork, Blanchardstown Shopping Centre in Dublin 15, Dundrum Town Centre in Dublin 14 and Whitewater Shopping Centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare. This scheme enables anyone to get the loan of a manual wheelchair, a powered wheelchair or a powered scooter while shopping. This is a free service and helpful for anyone who finds shopping a tiring experience. To avail of this service, you must have two pieces of identification with you including photo ID. It is advisable to ring beforehand, particularly coming up to a holiday period or a bank holiday weekend.

Some other shopping centres also have manual wheelchairs that they loan out to customers. Contact Customer Services of the shopping centre to check on the availability of this service.


Private Purchase of Equipment

Private purchase may be necessary if the user is not eligible to obtain the necessary equipment from the local area health services. Some people may also choose to buy privately because they want the wider choice of equipment available on the private market.

The purchaser has the option of:

  • personally funding the cost of the equipment
  • applying to charities/benevolent funds etc for funding
  • buying second-hand
  • checking with your health insurance company, if a member, to see if, or what, reimbursement is available.

Private Purchase – Applying for a VAT Refund

VAT paid on certain equipment which is privately purchased for use by a person with a disability can be reclaimed from Revenue. The relief applies to VAT on the purchase of goods which are aids and appliances designed to assist a disabled person to overcome a disability in the performance of their daily functions. Most aids to daily living and communication aids are included. Goods designed for leisure purposes are not. An invoice clearly stating the VAT content of the total amount paid must be included with the application. Form VAT 61a is available from Revenue or can be downloaded from their website (see Useful Addresses).

Funding from charitable sources

If you have little or no disposable income, but do not have a medical card, you could consider applying to a local charity, benevolent fund or occupational fund for financial assistance. Some such organisations have budgets for exceptional cases or needs and requests will be dealt with in confidence.

Private Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists in private practice can carry out assessments in the home or workplace, and if home modifications are being considered, provide a report detailing the recommendations. It is important to ensure the therapist is experienced in relation to your particular needs. Make sure to discuss fees before engaging anyone’s services, and also check what the assessment fee includes (or does not include). The profession’s representative body, the Association of Occupational Therapists in Ireland (AOTI), keeps a list of contact details of member occupational therapists working in private practice in Ireland. This list is available from the AOTI (see Useful Addresses).

Private Physiotherapists

Physiotherapists can assess for movement, strength and balance training equipment, walking aids and exercise devices and recommend accordingly. If you wish to consult a physiotherapist you can go directly to your local chartered physiotherapist or ask your GP to refer you. It is important to ensure the therapist you consult is experienced in relation to your particular needs. Chartered physiotherapists work in hospitals and in the community where treatment is covered under the public health service. They also work in private practice and can be contacted through the profession’s representative body, the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (see Useful Addresses), or through the Golden Pages.

Second-hand equipment

Buying second-hand can be a cheaper way of finding a solution to your mobility difficulties but, since choice is more limited, you must make sure that you do not compromise on your essential requirements. Also check that what you are buying is in good working order. You do have certain consumer rights when buying second-hand; for example, the seller must accurately describe the product he/she is selling; and you should be made fully aware of any faults that need attention. If possible, obtain a written description of the product from the seller before you buy so that, should you find any faults, you can get your money back more easily.

There are basically two sources of second-hand equipment: equipment retailers and private individuals.

Buying from a mobility equipment retailer

Some commercial suppliers of wheelchairs also buy unwanted vehicles, recondition them, and then offer them for sale with a short guarantee of, for example, three months. Buying second-hand from a retailer is generally more expensive than buying from a private individual, but the wheelchair is likely to have been serviced and should be in reasonable working order.

Buying from a private individual

Some mainstream magazines and several disability organisations publish journals that contain advertisements for second-hand equipment. If you are buying second-hand from a private individual, you must make sure that the wheelchair has been regularly maintained, that you also receive accompanying literature, for example a care manual; and that you receive instructions on how to control and steer the wheelchair. You will also need to find the local company able to service your wheelchair and carry out future repairs.


Wheelchairs are expensive so it is essential that you do not rush into buying a vehicle that you later find is not entirely suitable. If the wheelchair is being provided by the health services, the occupational therapist and wheelchair service provider will be able to assist you in selecting the most suitable wheelchair for you.

Before buying privately, it is strongly recommended that you seek the advice of an occupational therapist on the suitability of the wheelchair to your condition or situation. It is also recommended that you try out and compare a range of different wheelchairs if possible.

You can arrange to visit a supplier’s showroom (if they have one). Contact details of suppliers can be found under ‘Disabled Persons Products & Services’ in the Golden Pages and some may have a website with details of their products and services which you can view online.

Sometimes suppliers organise exhibitions of different types of equipment in various locations around the country allowing people to see and try equipment. These exhibitions are often advertised in the local paper or on local radio. You can also request to be put on a supplier’s mailing list so you will be notified if there is an event being held in your area.

Some companies will give equipment for a try-out period before purchase. Enquiries should also be made about maintenance (if it will be required), maintenance contracts (if relevant) and whether a user manual is provided with the equipment (essential).

When purchasing from any supplier, it is important to remember that it is their business to sell. There may be several suppliers of that particular piece of equipment or different manufacturers of the same type of equipment, so always shop around.

Before you commit to buying, check the following:

  • What is the delivery time?
  • Will the wheelchair arrive readily assembled?
  • What guarantee is available?
  • What after-care service is offered?
  • How much is the call out charge?
  • Will spare parts be brought to the home?
  • If the chair has to be taken away for repairs will a 'loan chair' be offered?
  • Does the manufacturer offer insurance schemes?


  • Building for Everyone
    Publication which examines buildings and the external environment to achieve equality and inclusiveness for everyone. Available from:
    National Disability Authority
    25 Clyde Road
    Dublin 4
    Tel: 01-608 0400
    Fax: 01-660 9935


  • Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland (AOTI)
    Office 1 & 2
    1st Floor
    Haymarket House
    Dublin 7
    Tel: 01-874 8136

  • Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP)
    Royal College of Surgeons
    St Stephen's Green
    Dublin 2
    Tel: 01-402 2148
    Fax: 01-402 2160

  • VAT (Unregistered) Repayments Section
    Revenue Commissioners
    Central Repayments Office
    M: TEK II Building
    Armagh Road
    Tel: 047 621 000
    LoCall: 1890 60 60 61

  • Shopmobility(a free service offering manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and scooters to members of the public with limited mobility for periods of up to a day)
    Liffey Valley Shopping Centre
    Dublin 22
    Tel: 01-620 8731

  • Shopmobility(a free service offering manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and scooters to members of the public with limited mobility for periods of up to a day)
    Mahon Point Shopping Centre
    Tel: 021-431 3033

  • Shopmobility(a free service offering manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and scooters to members of the public with limited mobility for periods of up to a day)
    Red Car Park (Level 2M)
    Dundrum Town Centre
    Dublin 14
    Tel: 01-298 7982

  • Shopmobility(a free service offering manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and scooters to members of the public with limited mobility for periods of up to a day)
    Green Car Park
    Whitewater Shopping Centre
    Cutlery Road
    Co Kildare
    Tel: 045-450736

  • Shopmobility(a free service offering manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and scooters
    to members of the public with limited mobility for periods of up to a day)

    Blanchardstown Shopping Centre
    Red Car Park - Marks and Spencers Entrance
    Dublin 15
    Tel: 01-821 1911

  • Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA)
    Áras Chúchulainn
    Blackheath Drive
    Dublin 3
    Tel: 01-818 6400
    Fax: 01-833 3873

  • Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)(UK charity providing advice and information and a comprehensive up-to-date database of disability equipment available in the UK)
    Ground Floor
    Landmark House
    Hammersmith Bridge Road
    London W6 9EJ
    Tel: 0044 207 289 6111

  • Rica(independent research body in UK which produces guides for older and disabled consumers based on professional research)
    G03, The Wenlock
    50-52 Wharf Road
    N1 7EU
    Tel: 0044 207 427 2460
    Fax: 0044 207 427 2468