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Besides seat width, the wheelchair seat height is the next most important decision that the user will need to make when selecting a wheelchair. When trying to figure out the seat height, the user will have to take into account their abilities and where they will be using the chair most. This step can be a bit tricky for some wheelchair users.
Regular wheelchairs don’t vary much in height selection and is usually 19″ to 20″ high. For lightweight and custom wheelchairs, the heights can vary from as low as 14″ up to as high as 21″.
Seat Height Problems
If the height of the seat is too low it will cause problems such as the foot rests dragging on the ground, reduce access to tables and countertops, awkward transfers, and not being able to reach higher shelves.
If the seat height is too high, it will be difficult to transfer into and out of the wheelchair, getting close enough to a table to eat might be difficult and picking items up off the floor will be very challenging.
Normal Seat Height
“Normal seat heights” don’t really exist for wheelchairs.
The majority of standard wheelchairs seats are 18″ to 19″ high. This seems to be an ideal height for most people, they can easily place their feet on the floor and using most desks and chairs are comfortable at this height.
Things to Think About
The height of the wheelchair seat should be similar to a regular chair for the majority of users, but these factors should be considered:
Footrests – If the seat height is too low, the footrests will scrape on the floor. The makers have made an effort to resolve this issue by designing footrests so that they place the feet more forward which essentially raises the feet higher off the floor.
Cushions – These usually add 1″ to 2 1/2″ to the seat height of the wheelchair therefore the chair should be ordered with this in mind and it should be a bit lower to make room for the cushion. Always measure the cushion in its compressed state with the user sitting on it to get the most accurate measurement.
User Height – A higher seat will be needed for users with longer legs to prevent their feet from dragging on the floor. Shorter wheelchair users will need lower seat height so that they can safely transfer into and out of the wheelchair.
Transfers – The seat height will affect how the user can transfer into and out of the wheelchair. If they cannot perform a standing transfer, then the wheelchair seat height (including cushion) and where they are transferring to, such as a toilet, couch or bed, needs to be close in height.
Foot Propulsion – If a user cannot propel the wheelchair using their hands, their feet are the next best option for mobility. In these cases, the seat height must be low enough so that they can firmly plant their feet on the ground and easily move around. Propulsion if often the most critical factor for wheelchair users and it will often take priority over other height considerations.
All of these options should be taken into consideration when determining the final seat height. Some compromise will have to be made but you will make a better decision once you consider all the above factors.
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