Manual Wheelchairs
in the US

Manual wheelchairs, are those that require human power to move them. Many manual wheelchairs can be folded for storage or placement into a vehicle, although modern wheelchairs are just as likely to be rigid framed.

Manual or self-propelled wheelchairs are propelled by the occupant, usually by turning the large rear wheels, from 20-24 inches (51–61 cm) in average diameter, and resembling bicycle wheels. The user moves the chair by pushing on the handrims, which are made of circular tubing attached to the outside of the large wheels. The handrims have a diameter that is slightly less than that of the rear wheels. Skilled users can control speed and turning and often learn to balance the chair on its rear wheels — do a wheelie. The wheelie is not just for show — a rider who can control the chair in this manner can climb and descend curbs and move over small obstacles.

Foot propulsion of the wheelchair by the occupant is also common for patients who have limited hand movement capabilities or simply do not wish to use their hands for propulsion. Foot propulsion also allows patients to exercise their legs to increase blood flow and limit further disability.

One-arm drive enables a user to guide and propel a wheelchair from one side. Two handrims, one smaller than the other, are located on one side of the chair, left or right. On most models the outer, or smaller rim, is connected to the opposite wheel by a folding axle. When both handrims are grasped together, the chair may be propelled forward or backward in a straight line. When either handrim is moved independently, the chair will turn left or right in response to the handrim used. Another alternative is a LeverDrive chair that propels the chair forwards by using a lever that is pumped back and forth. Some chairs are also configured to allow the occupant to propel using one or both feet instead of using the rims.