OT Advice when buying a stairlift

A question I get asked a lot when it comes to wheelchairs is “Do I need a transit or self-propelled wheelchair?”

Wheelchairs play a crucial role in enhancing mobility and independence for individuals with mobility challenges. Among the various types of wheelchairs, transit wheelchairs, and self-propelled wheelchairs are two distinct options designed to meet different needs. In this blog post, I’ll run through the main differences and similarities between transit and self-propelled wheelchairs, shedding light on the factors that users should take into account.

Transit Wheelchairs:

Transit wheelchairs, also known as transport or attendant-propelled wheelchairs, are designed to be pushed by a caregiver or an attendant rather than the user themselves. Here are some key features of transit wheelchairs:

1. Lightweight and Compact Design: Transit wheelchairs are often more lightweight and compact compared to self-propelled wheelchairs. This makes them easier to maneuver in tight spaces and convenient for transportation.

2. Smaller Rear Wheels: Transit wheelchairs typically have smaller rear wheels, making it easier for the caregiver to navigate and control the chair.

3. Foldable for Easy Transport: Many transit wheelchairs are designed to be foldable, facilitating easy storage and transport. This feature is particularly beneficial for individuals who require assistance but want a wheelchair that can be easily taken in and out of vehicles.

Self-Propelled Wheelchairs:

Self-propelled wheelchairs are designed for individuals who have the capability to move the wheelchair themselves. These wheelchairs provide users with greater independence and control over their mobility. Here are some key features of self-propelled wheelchairs:

1. Large Rear Wheels: Self-propelled wheelchairs typically have larger rear wheels, allowing users to propel themselves forward using hand rims. This design is essential for users who want to navigate various terrains independently.

2. Adjustable and Customizable: Self-propelled wheelchairs often come with adjustable features, such as seat height, backrest angle, and footrests. This customization allows users to find the most comfortable and ergonomic positions for their unique needs.

3. Heavier Construction: In contrast to transit wheelchairs, self-propelled wheelchairs may be heavier due to the larger rear wheels and additional features. This can impact their portability but contributes to durability and stability.


1. Basic Structure: Both transit and self-propelled wheelchairs share a fundamental structure, consisting of a seat, frame, wheels, and footrests. The difference lies in the specific design and features that cater to different user preferences.

2. Adjustable Features: While self-propelled wheelchairs often offer more customisation options, both types of wheelchairs may have adjustable features to ensure comfort and accommodate individual needs.

The choice between a transit wheelchair and a self-propelled wheelchair depends on the user’s mobility needs and preferences. Transit wheelchairs offer convenience and ease of use with the assistance of a caregiver, while self-propelled wheelchairs empower users to navigate their environment independently. Understanding these differences can help individuals make informed decisions that align with their lifestyle and requirements, ultimately enhancing their mobility and quality of life.

Having said all that, it’s important to note that I always recommend an assessment to determine the most appropriate type of wheelchair and just as important, the correct size. An occupational therapist conducts a wheelchair assessment by evaluating the individual’s physical abilities, functional needs, and environmental factors to determine the most appropriate wheelchair. This involves assessing posture, mobility, strength, and coordination, as well as considering the person’s daily activities and living environment. The therapist also considers the client’s preferences and goals to ensure the wheelchair meets their specific needs, promoting independence and improving overall quality of life.

As you can see, choosing the right type of wheelchair should not be left to chance.

You can view a range of quality, affordable transit, and self-propelled wheelchairs here.