How High Can People in Wheelchairs Reach? (Helpful Guide)

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So, how high can people in wheelchairs reach? This is a question I asked myself when I started using a wheelchair.

And if you are a wheelchair user like me, you are probably looking at the change in height and wondering how high your hands can extend.

This guide will answer your wheelchair height issues and give you tips to adjust wheelchair height. Read on!

How High Can People in Wheelchairs Reach?

back view of a man propelling his wheelchair

The average wheelchair height stands at 26 inches, from the finished floor or ground surfaces to the handles at the backrest.

But when considering the average height of a person using the mobility aid, the eye level height plays a significant role in defining how high can someone in a wheelchair reach.

According to ADA standards, a person’s eye level height when using a wheelchair is 43”⁠–51”. That said, your hand’s flexibility is classified into two categories. (1)

1. Forward Reach

This is when you have to approach an element like accessible entrances or check-out aisles in a forward position. There are usually two scenarios in this case showed below.

Obstructed

Typically, the height you can reach in this case is affected by an obstacle. In such a case, the maximum extent feasible is 48 inches, considering the depth of the barrier spans 20 inches.

If the obstacle’s depth spans 20”–25”, your maximum height reduces to 44 inches.

Unobstructed

Here, you will not have to overcome an obstacle to reach the top height. This allows a maximum forward reach of 48 inches and a low of 15 inches from the floor space.

2. Side Reach

A side reach applies when approaching an element from a parallel angle to it. Here, there are also two considerations shown below.

Obstructed

This approach applies when there is a barrier between the element and the ground surface. That said, the ideal height of an obstacle is 34 inches and the depth varies from 10”–24”.

When the barrier’s depth is 10”, the side reach height averages 48 inches. If the barrier depth spans 24”, your maximum extent capability reduces to 46 inches.

Unobstructed

This is where you can freely access the needed element, like wheelchair-accessible telephones, without stretching. Here, the maximum height is 48 inches and 15” from the finish floor or ground surface.

CHECK: Where Can I Weigh Myself in a Wheelchair?

How To Adjust Wheelchair Height

lady in a basic manual wheelchair

You may find that the wheelchair’s height needs to be adjusted to avoid complications like knee or back pain. So how can you adjust your wheelchair’s height?

There is a wide range of reasonable accommodations people with mobility disabilities can do to adjust wheelchair height.

1. Use Pillows

Pillows offer an excellent way of raising your height to a maximum extent by elevating the seating position. While you can use any pillow, some are designed specifically for the job.

These pillows help people with disabilities to be in a comfortable position. Here is a video from Comfort Company showing how the cushions work.

2. Manual Wheelchair Adjustments

Most people with mobility disabilities use adjustable wheelchairs to overcome their mobility disability issues. The adjustment tool is usually provided on the wheelchair’s structure where the wheels are.

Typically, you have to loosen the nuts holding the wheel’s axle and raise or lower the position to access a variety of heights.

Here is a video from top physical therapists Brad Heineck and Bob Schrupp explaining how to adjust your wheelchair’s height manually.

3. Using Advanced Wheelchairs

Advances in technology have made it easier for individuals with disabilitiesto live independently. Modern power wheelchairs allow users to elevate their sitting position up to 33 inches. (2)

Here is a video from Your ALS Guide explaining how to adjust your power wheelchair’s height using control buttons to have a broad range of motion.

Why Do You Need Wheelchair Height Adjustments?

Wheelchair users typically need to change their sitting positions for various reasons. According to a study from the Journal of Tissue Viability, people with mobility disabilities are likely to develop pressure ulcers from excessive sitting. (3)

Occasions that need a vertical clearance adjustment include conversations, transfer from the chair to a car in parking spaces, toilet compartments, an aircraft seat, or non-accessible spaces.

You may also need to access higher-mounted elements like dining surfaces, mailboxes, public pay telephones, courtroom stations, light switches, a key station, and intercity rail stations.

Benefits of Power Seat Elevation

1. Boosts Confidence

My maneuvering clearance was complicated when I started using a manual wheelchair. That changed when I shifted to a power wheelchair since there was no more tight grasping and thrusting of the wheels.

This has helped boost my confidence in the access aisles in parking spaces, public accommodations, and facility entrances. I can now talk to someone at eye level in public and private entities.

2. A Shot at Independence

For many people with mobility disability, moving is an enormous challenge. A power wheelchair increases access for people since a motor helps one propel through the path of travel.

With the capability to adjust the height, you can have additional space and easily maneuver a wide range of places, like toilet rooms, accessible parking facilities, and public entity ground spaces.

And you will do these tasks with no technical assistance even when not in accessible facilities.

FAQs

1. What is the average height of a wheelchair?

side view of a manual wheelchair in a rooftop

According to ADA regulations, the average height of a wheelchair is 36 inches from the finish floor or ground surfaces to the backrest handles and43” to 51” when a person is sitting.

2. Do wheelchairs come in different heights?

The average wheelchair seat height varies from 18” to 19”. However, this range is not a one-size-fits-all since you can request customized wheels.

Conclusion

You will have the question of how high can people in wheelchairs reach if you are a new wheelchair user. How you used to reach for things has changed, and you must adapt quickly.

I was overwhelmed too at first, but then I got used to wheelchair-accessible routes in my house and outdoors.

lady in a wheelchair reaching the telephone

If you have more tips to help another seated person adjust their wheelchair height, share them in the comments!

References

  • 1. ADA. Figure A3. Dimensions of Adult-Sized Wheelchairs [Internet]. www.ada.gov. 1991. Available from: https://www.ada.gov/1991standards/descript/reg3a/figA3ds.htm
  • 2. Sonenblum S, Maurer C, Hanes C, Piriano J, Sprigle S. Everyday use of power adjustable seat height (PASH) systems. The Official Journal of RESNA [Internet]. 2019;33. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10400435.2019.1634659#:~:text=For%20those%20who%20require%20power,with%20a%20user%2Doperated%20control.
  • 3. Stephens M, Bartley CA. Understanding the association between pressure ulcers and sitting in adults what does it mean for me and my carers? Seating guidelines for people, carers and health & social care professionals. Journal of Tissue Viability [Internet]. 2018;27:59–73. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965206X17301171

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