Choosing mobility equipment, wheelchairs and scooters
If you have a long-term or permanent difficulty with mobility, getting a wheelchair or scooter, or other mobility equipment may help you to live more independently.
Household mobility aids
A huge variety of household equipment can help someone who is ill, disabled or frail, including:
- devices to help open jars and tins, turn taps or open windows
- slip-resistant mats
- wheeled trolleys for moving items that are too heavy to carry
- wire basket inserts in pans so contents can be drained easily without the need to carry a pan of boiling water to the sink
- grab rails to be attached to cars, baths, stairs or beds
- toilets with raised seats or a toilet frame, including fixed or moveable armrests
- adapted cups, cutlery and kitchen appliances
- walking sticks and walking frames
Find out more about getting the right care equipment.
Home improvement agencies
You may be able to get help to repair, improve, maintain or adapt your home from a local home improvement agency. These agencies are government-funded and not-for-profit, and they provide advice for free. However, they usually charge a fee if you go ahead with any work they recommend. You can find your nearest home improvement agency on the Foundations website.
If you're disabled, you can find out whether you can apply for equipment for your home on GOV.UK.
Choosing a wheelchair or scooter
If you need a wheelchair, the main decisions you'll have to make about your chair are:
- whether it will be self-propelled, pushed by someone else, or electric-powered
- for permanent or occasional use
- for indoor or outdoor use
- whether you need it to go in and out of a car
There are pros and cons for each type of chair, so the choice depends on your needs. There are a large variety of wheelchairs and scooters available, so expert independent advice is essential. Some of the things to consider when choosing the right equipment are:
- Your physical ability. For example, if you're unable to stand up, a scooter may be difficult to manage. Stability and balance may also affect what you can use.
- How the equipment will be used. For example, do you need to get upstairs or through narrow doorways?
- Practical considerations, such as access to a power point if the equipment needs to be charged up, or having a secure place to store the equipment when it's not in use.
Choice of wheelchair design
The design of the chair affects how it can be used. Look out for:
- large rear wheels, which make wheelchairs easier to manoeuvre
- wheels positioned further forward on an adjustable axle, which require less effort to move the chair
- lightweight chairs that fold or can be dismantled easily if the wheelchair has to be lifted and transported regularly
- seat size, angle and style, as well as the position of the foot, back and arm rests - these should all be taken into account when considering the comfort of the chair
You should also bear in mind that standard wheelchairs can't be modified. "Active-user" wheelchairs are usually more expensive, but they have the advantage of being adjustable and adaptable.
If you need a wheelchair that's pushed by someone else, it's still important to consider how easy it will be for them to use it. For example, can they lift it and put it in the boot of the car?
Before deciding on a specific style of wheelchair, it's a good idea to try it out around the house or on the local roads.
How to get a wheelchair
NHS wheelchair services
NHS wheelchair services offer assessments to determine what type of wheelchair or mobility equipment you may be entitled to on the NHS.
In most cases, you'll be referred to the service by a hospital, doctor, consultant or occupational therapists. See the directory of wheelchair services for a full list of services.
In general, wheelchair services are available to people of all ages who have a long-term need for mobility help. However, the specific criteria for whether you're eligible are decided locally and will vary depending on where you live.
Before you can be offered a wheelchair, you'll have to undergo an assessment. This will determine if you're eligible and, if so, what type of mobility equipment is most appropriate. The assessment is normally carried out at NHS wheelchair services centres or clinics.
The people who assess you will all be health professionals, such as GPs, occupational therapists, or physiotherapists, and should include a "rehabilitation engineer" (someone who specialises in wheelchairs and seating). There is no one-size-fits-all policy, which means you will be assessed according to your individual needs. The assessment should take into account your physical and social needs, as well as the environment in which you live and work.
Many wheelchair services have a waiting list for assessment appointments, so you may have to wait several weeks after being referred to have an assessment.
Take a friend, carer or your own therapist with you when you have your assessment. They can help you make the right choice. Also bear in mind that if the service comes to visit you at home or work, you won't be able to see and try the full range of chairs available.
Chairs can be adapted if necessary to meet your specific needs. This is particularly important for children, as their equipment must adjust to their growth and changing needs. If you feel that your wheelchair doesn't fit your current needs any more, contact your wheelchair service and they will reassess you.
NHS voucher scheme
Some NHS wheelchair services offer a voucher scheme so that you can have more choice of wheelchair. You receive a voucher to the value of the chair you would have been offered after your assessment (which is determined locally in each individual case). You can then put the voucher towards the cost of a chair that you buy privately or in partnership with the NHS.
If the maintenance of the wheelchair remains the responsibility of the NHS, you will have to return the chair when you no longer need it. However, you can opt for private maintenance, which will allow you to keep the chair permanently.
Not all NHS wheelchair services offer the voucher scheme. Services decide locally whether to have a scheme and how that scheme is applied. You cannot exchange the voucher for cash. The voucher is non-taxable so it does not affect any disability benefits you receive.
The Motability scheme may be of use if you want to hire or buy a powered wheelchair. It is available to people who receive the high rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance or the War Pensioners' Mobility Supplement. These benefits can be used to pay for the hire or hire purchase of a wheelchair or scooter.
Renting or buying equipment privately
You can rent or buy equipment from some commercial companies, but it's important to take independent advice to ensure you make the best choice.
The consumer website Which? Elderly Care has lots of advice on choosing and buying mobility products, as does Living Made Easy.
Better Mobility has a list of charities that can help to fund mobility equipment for children and adults on its website.
Do some research before you choose a wheelchair or scooter. Ensure the chair suits your individual needs, can be maintained, and is a reasonable price. The following 10-point checklist may help:
- Try as many makes and types of wheelchairs or scooters as possible (you may have to visit several suppliers to see different ranges).
- Ask if you can try the chair at home. This will allow you to check whether the size of the chair is suitable for your home. Also, try the chair outside on a regular route. Check it goes in your car boot and that it works anywhere else you might use it.
- Find out how long the delivery time is, and ask if it will be delivered ready for use.
- Check whether it's guaranteed and for how long.
- Check if insurance is available and if it requires you to maintain the wheelchair according to the manufacturer's guidance.
- Ask if the retailer keeps spare parts in stock or if they need to order them. If so, how long would you have to wait?
- Check if the retailer does repairs or if this is provided by a third party.
- Ask if they do home visits or take the chair or scooter away for repair.
- Check whether the chair or scooter will be collected and delivered for repairs and whether you will get a free replacement chair or scooter.
- Find out what other people think about a particular wheelchair or scooter. Online forums may help here.
Local authority wheelchair schemes
Local authorities provide wheelchairs as part of their duty to help disabled children access education. Contact Buckinghamshire County Council for more information.
Children's wheelchair needs are different from those of adults. They need smaller chairs that can be adapted as they grow. If your child has been assessed as needing a wheelchair, you may want to contact a charity such as Whizz Kidz or Go Kids Go!. These provide wheelchair skills training for disabled young people.
As well as providing children with wheelchairs, local authorities are responsible for carrying out home adaptations if you need them to use a wheelchair at home. Your local authority is also responsible for issuing static seating (which might include chairs that offer more stability and support) and night-time posture support (which might include special mattresses or bed accessories) if required.
Contact Buckinghamshire County Council for more information about what's available for you.
Access to Work scheme
The Access to Work scheme can help you if your health or disability affects the way you do your job. It gives you and your employer advice about and support with extra costs that may arise because of your needs.
Find out more about the Access to Work scheme.
Short-term loan wheelchairs
If you need a wheelchair for a short period, such as after an accident or when you've been discharged from hospital, you may be able to apply for a short-term loan wheelchair with your local wheelchair service. For more detailed information, contact your local wheelchair service.
The wheelchair service will not provide a wheelchair if it is only required for day trips or outings.
Further independent advice on mobility equipment
The Disabled Living Foundation's AskSara online tool can give you information and advice on mobility equipment, including stair rails and activity monitoring systems as well as wheelchair and scooter accessories.
Article provided by NHS Choices