There are a large number of terrain and clearance challenges for users of wheelchairs. Narrow hallways, hairpin turns, stairs, enclosed spaces and furniture arrangements are just among a very small portion of the obstacles that someone who relies on a wheelchair faces every day. Sometimes, avoiding places with these obstacles or sending someone in their place is used as a temporary workaround. But let’s be honest, that’s no solution to a world that is not yet fully adapted to fit the needs of wheelchair users.
For recent users that have not adapted their home yet, or for easier access in small spaces with plenty of doorways, you might want to consider a narrow wheelchair. They are considered skinny wheelchairs for narrow doorways. These indoor wheelchairs are not as heavy as standard wheelchairs, thus making them easier to handle and move around. The added benefit to all of these aspects is that wheelchair storage and transportation becomes a much simpler task. The number of individuals using a wheelchair is upwards of 65 million. There are some important things to consider before purchasing a new wheelchair. Measure the dimensions of all entrance points, door openings, halls and other necessary places throughout your house.
How Wide is a Regular Wheelchair?
A standard wheelchair width is between 18″ to 22″ in most cases. This measured amount is usually listed as the seat width on product descriptions. Do the chair measuring while opened and include wheels and leg rests to be sure that they will safely clear the door openings.
Usually, a seat cushion will be 8-10 inches less than the width of the wheelchair, so wheelchairs measure anywhere from 21 to 30 inches (53 to 76 centimeters) wide and like with anything else, there are outliers and special exceptions that can be outside of that range. Since the measurements above are the total width of the wheelchair, and not the width of the seat cushion, the widest of wheelchairs can measure up to 40 inches, with a seat cushion up to 30 inches. One last thing to take into consideration is the arm room clearance outside of the total width required to maneuver the wheelchair.
In addition to manual wheelchair dimensions, electrically powered chairs’ dimensions can be slightly bigger, longer, and heavier. Chairs with a width over 40 inches are not unheard of, and can be even wider considering the user’s needs, body type, and weight.
In addition to the more average wheelchair width encountered, customers can also find narrow wheelchair dimensions when shopping. Seat height, hip to knee legroom and seat width are the most important numbers to have.
Typically found narrower wheelchairs seat size measurements include:
- 16 inch wheelchair
- 18 inch wheelchair
- 20 inch wheelchair
Standard doorways are typically 23 to 27 inches.
The ADA guideline recommended wheelchair accessible doorway measurement is 32,” and a hallway should be at least 36″ wide.
Features to Search for in a Narrow Wheelchair
The wheelchair choice a user makes can be a huge difference in the accessibility of certain areas, especially ones with narrow doorways and tight hallways, and small spaces for turns. Maneuvering around these areas can become much easier by giving consideration to some key features in the wheelchair you choose. Which features make the most difference? Let’s find out.
Removable Arms – As mentioned above, if a home has not yet been adapted to wheelchair use, a narrow wheelchair with removable arms make it easier to maneuver through the tighter spaces that a user may find themself in. The same goes for foldable arm rests and leg rests.
Cushion Size – To reiterate what we mentioned previously, cushion size is not the total width of the wheelchair. Typically, the width of the wheelchair is 8 to 10 inches more than the cushion, although there are models with a less pronounced difference. This means that, when taking into account how wide or narrow the doorways are that the user will be passing through, leave at least 8 to 10 inches of headroom from the cushion size (not including arm clearance).
Lightweight Frame – A lightweight narrow wheelchair frame makes the wheelchair easier to transport, especially if the user will be travelling. The added benefit of this is that narrow transport wheelchairs also have smaller dimensions, making them ideal for maneuvering in tight spaces out in the world.
Finding the right wheelchair that will best meet your specific needs is easy with the right shopping strategies and some confidence. Below are 8 top wheelchair picks that are both lightweight and made for transportation use into the narrowest of places.
Narrow Wheelchairs Models
Drive Medical Deluxe Lightweight Aluminum Transportable Wheelchair, Red, 17″
This stellar lightweight compact wheelchair is just 17″ wide enabling it to fit nicely into even the tightest of indoor spaces with ease. The fully transportable strong but light aluminum design that weighs a mere 19 lbs allows this model to be lifted and carried easily making this a terrific portable wheeled transportation option.
The comfortable seat and backrest features easy-to-clean nylon upholstery which further increases to lighter weight overall design style perfectly. Smart and durable non-pneumatic 8″ easy-roll wheels do not require much maintenance, and there is a nifty safety-use lock on the back wheels for added security when the chair needs to be fully stationary.
The stylish seat and backrest is simple to fold-down-flat into storage dimensions of just 33 by 9 by 39.5″ making this chair an ideal choice for stowing away in a car trunk for fast pack-up-and-go travel use.
An additional safety belt offers the rider secure seating during typical movements and while transporting the person from one location to another.
- Lightweight design for easy transporting & less-space storage requirements
- Easy-to-keep-clean due to the wipe-off nylon material used on seat and back surfaces
- Padded armrests for increased seating comfort
- Simple fold-down for compact storage
- Easy-navigation through tight spots
- Strong aluminum framework that remains light
- Increased rider security due to locking wheels & comfortable safety-designed seat belt security features
- Aluminum framework might be hard-to-fix if inadvertently broken
- Larger body-types might have difficulty fitting the narrow seat space
- Drive-Medical TR37E-SV Lightweight Steel Transport-Style Wheelchair, Fixed Full Arms, 17-Inch Seat
This is an excellent compact wheelchair choice in a narrower design of just 17 inches in width that is lightweight and easy-to-maneuver even in cramped indoor areas. While this wheelchair selection is easy-to-transport and lift, the sturdy steel constructed framing offers true durability for longer-time use and amazing strength.
Fantastic for both the independent wheelchair rider and those requiring caretaker assistance alike. Fixed padded armrests are a welcome feature that provides a comfortable place to rest arms. Customers can elect to purchase detachable armrests too for added convenience.
Ingenious swing-away sturdy footrests offer easy mount and dismount accessibility yet provides more-than-ample foot support while chair is in-use.
This safer wheelchair model offers locking back wheels that make this chair ideal for bathroom use, and the secure seat belt ensures that the rider remains safe while in motion.
Top-quality nylon backrest and seat allow easy-wipe-clean ability that dries fast. Both seat and backrest with practical upholstery handles folds-down for simple storage and carry capabilities.
- Lightweight yet sturdy steel design offers reliable strength & easy-carry-and-storage features rolled into one chair
- Superior maneuverability through narrow spots
- Fully adjustable & removable supportive footrests in swing-away design for easy accessibility & cleaning
- Quick-dry nylon seat & backrest
- Comfortable fixed or detachable padded armrest options
- Folds flat for less-storage-room requirements & fast travel preparation
- Might require protective measures to pad metal parts for vulnerable users
- Not enough cushioned support for longer-time usage with frail-skin users
- Medline Mobility Ultralight Transportable Wheelchair, 19” Wide Seat, Permanent Desk-Length Arms, Swing Away Footrests, Blue Framework
Weighing only 15 lbs , these remarkable compact wheelchairs come in several colors including the featured blue along with metallic silver and black options. The roomier 19″ seat width allows comfortable seating while still having the capability to maneuver around crowded corners and living areas.
When needing to store or travel, this chair folds-flat for an easy-store-and-go transportation go-to. Handy stow-‘n-go innovative clips lock the footrests to wheelchair side when not-in-use with easy-unlock-release features.
Comfy armrest cushions are well-padded with restaurant styling. While fixed, these padded arm-rests make it easy to sit the wheelchair closer to tables and desks. Amazingly comfortable nylon padding on backrest and seat offers a truly pleasant sit-and-ride experience. This material choice is simple to keep clean for little overall maintenance requirements that everyone appreciates.
Easy-roll 8″ front wheels glide seamlessly forward and back, and the bigger 12″ back wheels have security locks to keep the chair stationary when necessary.
This impressive wheelchair has been created with the caregiver who might push it in mind. The chair includes convenient billfold holder and cell phone pockets, key-ring, ID holder and handy bottle/cup holder.
The framework is crafted from sturdy aluminum, and the chair offers both caregiver and patient a most enjoyable and novel multi-purpose ride.
- Tough framework construction featuring top-grade aluminum
- Ingenious multiple clever storage spots for patient & caregiver use
- Larger rear wheels for increased ride stability & balance factors
- Lightweight streamlined design folds-flat for transporting and storing
- Can comfortably get rider close to desk, chairs & more
- Well-padded arm-rests for an added comfort-feature
- Might not fit all larger-framed individuals
- Requires common-sense caution to avoid breaking some parts
Narrow Wheelchairs with Detachable Arms
Karman Lightweight Transportable Wheelchair with Removable Armrest
This compact and easy-to-maneuver smaller wheelchair pick offers fully removable armrests to expand available room. At only 30 lbs, this chair has a flexible seat width from 17 to 19 inches that depends on if the armrests are on or off. Features fold-down design.
Expected seat belt and lock-ready rear wheels gives additional security especially for those times when a stationary chair is crucial.
Tough steel framing material provides increased strength able to support riders who are a bit heavier or larger framed. A beautiful black coat finish ensures a great appearance and some protection from dings.
The padded nylon material features cooling breathable technology that allows the rider to stay comfortable in cushioned bliss while keeping the easy-clean factor.
This chair includes 8″ by 1″ castor wheels and folds-down-nicely-flat for simple storage and lowered travel prep time caregiver requirements.
- Light enough for easy-carry-travel-and-storage
- Folds flat for less storage-space requirements
- Detachable armrests for added space-extension ideal for bigger individuals
- Can slip under desks or tables for meal & activity time convenience when armrests are removed
- Reliable & durable framing
- Safer ride features
- Not for most self-propelled independent riders due to small-sized front wheel design
- May cause scratches if chair is unsupervised in crowded areas
Self-Propelled Small Wheelchair
Drive-Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair with Flip Back Desk Arms, Swing Away Footrests, 18″ Seat
This is an excellent choice for the more independent wheelchair user. The streamlined design features easy-roll front wheels able to turn in multiple directions. Larger rear wheels allow the user to self-propel seamlessly. This fine chair can be propelled with ease around obstacles and into close quarters.
The larger wheels to the rear also give a smoother ride across a variety of surfaces. Locking rear wheels offer a safe and easy-to-operate push-and-lock function for added security.
The durable and tough framework is crafted from steel, and the lightweight design offers smooth rides and ease-of-motion when in use.
Nylon easy-to-clean-and-dry upholstery is installed on backrest and the 20″ seat. This wheelchair’s frame, back, seat arm and foot rests fold-down into a convenient to carry and store compact design that makes this chair ideal for travel and home use alike.
This chair can be adjusted to different people’s seat sizes by removing the easy-detachable armrests. Swing-away leg rest design also allows for more room when needed.
Regular seat belt and an additional calf belt included for increased security and positioning versatility. The 18″ padded seat is comfortable for the user, and the extended width of wheelchair is 26″ when open.
- Self-Propels for more independence due to enlarged rear wheels
- Arm & footrests detach creating more room when desired
- Easy-Fold-Down capability for easy-storage & carry design
- Can be used with higher body weights – strong, durable framework
- Simple cleaning features
- Includes safer push-to-lock braking & additional calf belt
- Leg positioning might be too short for taller individuals
- Some protruding plastic parts must be carefully watched for breakage
Weight Limits: 250 lbs Width: up to 26″ when open
Drive-Medical Cruiser III Light Weight Wheelchair with Various Flip Back Arm Styles and Front Rigging Options, Black, 20″ Seat
Features easy-to-propel 24″ Mag-style rear wheels and a light enough design to propel with ease. A convenient security brake-locking-system allows for fast and easy-to-do securing of chair when desired.
Carefully sealed for long-term use and durability 8″ front wheel-castors are able to swivel and maneuver the chair into the smallest of locations. This chair offers tremendous performance features to ensure a long life and a fully comfortable riding experience that can’t be compared to lesser brands.
What’s nice about this easy-clean nylon seat upholstery is that it can be adjusted to suit different sizes with the included adjustable seat rail extensions. The seat depth itself can be moved from 16 to 19″. A dual axle construction feature allows ease-of-transfer and quick transitions to a hemi-level setting.
Adjustable foot and leg rests and a novel flip-back armrest design for increased sizing and seating versatility. This chair model features luxurious padding for the calves as an added bonus. Footrests may also be elevated whenever the rider wants to rest his/her legs.
Perfect for those with health conditions that would necessitate having to stay in the chair for long time periods and that require elevating the legs and feet to keep swelling down or for other healthcare reasons.
- Encourages independence with self-propelling ease-of-operations
- Rugged & Reliable even for heavier persons
- Special wheel-lock makes this chair safer for use
- A snap to clean
- Adjustable arm/leg/foot rests can expand seating room
- Extremely comfortable with both arm & leg rest cushioned padding
- Leaner design makes it a cinch to maneuver in narrowed spots like hall or entrance ways
- Folds-up easy & quick for a compact storage option
- Lightened design assures easy-carry-transport
- Welded parts may loosen – check before use
- Some minor issues with brakes over time – perform regular maintenance checks
Weight Limits: approx. 300 lbs Width: 24-26-28″ for seat 16-18-20″ respectively when fully open
Narrow Transport Wheelchairs
Medline Lightweight Transportable Adult Folding Wheelchair with Handbrakes, Red
This fold-down chair offers splendid ergonomic features for both caregiver and the user. Consider the practical brake created for the caregiver/ride assistant to use. This decreases the chances of an accident. The width of this particular wheelchair only measures a thinner 19,” but this durably constructed chair can hold up to 300 lbs with complete ease.
Tough wheels offer ability to travel over even rugged terrain with ease. The strong plastic rear wheels measure 12,” while the front ones measure 8′ to diminish the requirement for extensive maintenance.
The actual framing is made of durable aluminum that holds up over time. The chair’s easy fold-down style offers minimal room required storage and simple travel preparations. Customers can select either blue or the gorgeous red that’s pictured here.
The material used for the back and seat upholstery is a simple-to-keep-clean vinyl that has the additional benefit of being extraordinarily breathable unlike most others. This upholstery is not only exceptionally comfortable, it offers quick-dry technology so you and your chair will always look wonderfully presentable.
Wider and thicker padding on the fixed armrest gives the user the utmost stability. Innovative swing-away designer foot rests offer a practical method for increasing storage, seat or other space-related dimensions.
All-in-all, this classy wheelchair is a must-see-to-appreciate mobile ride selection for those with a variety of locomotion requirements.
- Customers & caregivers love the added assistant handbrake
- Fixed & stable armrest for increased safe use design
- Secure seat belt
- Little enough to maneuver precisely & tough enough to withstand higher-weight use
- Adjustable supremely comfortable footrests – able to detach for storing or to increase room
- Fold-down convenience for travel/storage reasons
- Cannot be self-propelled by rider/user
- Does have some small parts to pay attention to
- Drive-Medical Lightweight Steel Transport Wheelchair, Fixed Full Arms, 19″ Seat, Silver
This cleverly designed chair might look a bit slinky to provide the appropriate strong transportation weight and other requirements. Don’t let this chair fool you, because it definitely has got what it takes to make the top 8 list of slimmer wheelchairs ideal for transportation purposes.
The chair is equipped to handle a weight capacity of 250 lbs. This means that most individuals will fit nicely. Since the full-length and comfy padded armrests are fixed permanently, the user gets added stability.
The chair also features handy swing-away styled footrests that make it a breeze to increase leg room or access the seat for safer transfers. This also ensures easy-storage as well.
Secure locks fitted on the rear wheels and seat securing belt provides even safer user functionality. Whether needing to keep the chair secured and stationary for stand and transfer moves or desiring a fashionable ride that gets to all of the necessary places no matter how crowded the room design, this is a must-have transportation aid.
Durable rubber wheels require no maintenance, and the strong steel framing allows greater weights to be carried safely.
Soft and easy-clean vinyl upholstery material keeps your ride looking sharp with little cleaning effort, and the material has a quick-dry property just in case of a lunch mishap. It is easy to see why so many rely on this invincible slimmer wheelchair model to get around town, or to use as an indoor wheelchair for home.
- Narrow/Sleek design goes everywhere within reason
- Has cushioned armrests that keep more of the arm comfy
- Offers long-lasting stability, ease-of-movement & an incredibly stylish riding experience
- Wipe clean upholstery
- Rugged framework of strong steel
- Higher user weight limit
- Compact fold-over style perfect for storage, running errands or venturing out on an adventure
- Fully adjustable legrests for superior comfortable rides
- Still lightweight enough for easy-carrying between locations
- User will typically need an assistant to push – not self-propelling
- Some users report flimsy parts – avoid rough use
Sizes of Wheelchairs
Are there different sizes of wheelchairs?
In short, yes. A wheelchair user’s comfort depends on several key differences in the shape and size of the wheelchair, including seat width, height, and legroom (or the distance from the user’s knees to their hips). Each user’s body is different, and each wheelchair will fit each user in its own way. Small wheelchairs and narrow wheelchairs are available for those that need them. Keeping this in mind, it becomes understandable why trying out different sizes is very important for long term convenience and comfort.
Seat width – This is usually the distance between the arms of the wheelchair, which is where the user must fit into comfortably. Typically, this dimension varies from 18 to 22 inches (or about 45 to 56 centimeters), but narrow wheelchair dimensions are slightly different. If the seat of the wheelchair is too narrow for the user, he or she may experience pain or discomfort from wheelchair’s arms pressing into the outside of their upper and middle thighs or hips.
However, a seat that is too wide for the user means that they will have to reach for the hand rims of the wheels at a less than optimal angle, leading to arm fatigue — or worse, injury — during long term use. The sweet spot for most adult users is a 22 inch seat width. However, one must also take into account other factors in making this decision, such as the width of corridors and doorways the user will most often find themself traversing.
Seat height – This is how far the seat is off of the ground, measured from the base of the wheel to the surface of the seat. Heights tend to fall somewhere in the 16 to 19 inch (40 to 48 centimeter) range. This dimension takes into account the user’s height, balance, and clearance under tables and desks at their home or work place. The average seat height for users is 18 inches.
Legroom – This is effectively the area supporting the surfaces from their knees to their hips, ranging from 25 to 27 inches (63.5 to 66 centimeters).
Finding the right balance in this area of support is also a key factor in the user’s comfort level. If there is too much support (tall), there will not be much freedom to move around, and the user may feel that their legs are too high. If there is not enough support (short), then it will be uncomfortable for the user to sit.
Standards of Doorways and Hallways
Adapting Your Home to be More Wheelchair Friendly
Unfortunately, our world is not always the easiest to get around for wheelchair users. Whether it be the home, work, or just the open world — not all places are suited with a wheelchair user’s accessibility in mind. Even though a slim wheelchair is a viable choice, and many places are now becoming more wheelchair accessible, not all of them can be influenced by one person.
However, there is one place that you have full control of, which is your home. To better adapt your home for wheelchair access and general ease of use for the wheelchair user, we recommend — if possible — modifying the following areas for the most impact on wheelchair user friendliness in your home.
Doorways and Porches – What is the first key obstacle in a wheelchair user’s access to the home? The front door. This means that, as well as making doors in your house at least 32 inches wide, you must consider access to the porch as well. Stairs leading up to the porch are no good for wheelchair access, consider replacing them with a ramp or adding one nearby.
Flooring – The next step past the front door is the floor, or more specifically, the material covering the floor. For example, flooring material such as tile, hardwood, laminate, and low-pile carpeting are generally considered safe and convenient for wheelchair use. However, some materials are deemed unsafe due to being slippery, as well as bogging down the wheelchair user, causing fatigue or disbalance. Among the non-friendly materials for wheelchair users are high pile carpet, polished vinyl, rough concrete, and rough tile.
Furniture – Once the wheelchair user is in the home, consider their ability to maneuver between your furniture on their way to their destination, as well as access to the furniture itself. This means that 36 inch wide passageways between couches, tables, chairs, beds, and drawers is the minimum for comfortable movement. In addition, the height of the furniture also plays a role, although most installments are not too high for wheelchair access. One last thing to consider is to move any fragile decorative items on the furniture, such as vases or picture frames with glass, to a location where the wheelchair user does not accidentally bump into the furniture, causing them to fall off and break.
Hallways – As with doorways, hallway access for the independent wheelchair user means that the minimum width should be at least 36 inches. The ability to turn 180 degrees in a T-shaped section of the hallway means that all of the adjacent areas should also be 36 inches wide. However, with a caregiver, or with other people passing the wheelchair user in the hall, we recommend a hallway width of 48 inches or more.
Locks and Handles – Once the wheelchair user gets to the doorway, it is important for them to comfortably access the handle and to operate the locking mechanisms without stretching too far. For this task, 48 inches off the floor is the perfect height.
Plumbing Installations – This pertains to restroom and kitchen sinks, bathroom fixtures, toilet seats, and showers. For example, a toilet seat must be 16 inches from the floor or lower for comfortable and enjoyable use. Sink tops, in both the kitchen and bathroom, should be around 34 inches off of the floor with at least 29 inches of clearance height, 30 or more inches of width, and around 30 inches of depth. This applies to kitchen counters and cooking appliances as well.
How to Make Your Home More Accessible to Wheelchair Users
In order to keep your wheelchair user in the home as comfortably as possible and for as long as possible, it is vital to consider making some adjustments to the wheelchair accessibility of your home. Going through a doorway independently or with a caregiver can be difficult with some doorways and impossible with others. If the doorway is a tight fit, constant elbow injuries may cause long term discomfort or bruises and scrapes, and can be quite discouraging. Typical doorways are 21-30 inches wide, and maneuvering a wheelchair through them can be anywhere from challenging to undoable. How wide is a wheelchair accessible door? Considering a narrow wheelchair is a step in the right direction, but widening your door frames to 32-36 inches ideal for moving around the house. Useful adjustments are included but not limited to:
- Widening your doorways and changing lock height
- Getting smoother and safer flooring
- Adapting your ground floor
- Ramps and walkways