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Mobility Scooter Vs Wheelchair: Which one is best for you?

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The ‘power wheelchair vs scooter’ debate is never-ending.

While both mobility devices are meant to help you get around become more self-reliant, it can be confusing choosing one over the other.

For so long the two terms have been used interchangeably to refer to each other, but the truth is that the two couldn’t be any different!

Keep reading to learn all about each option so you can choose the one that’s right for you.

READ MORE: Best Travel Electric Wheelchair

Power Wheelchair Vs. Scooter: What’s the Difference? 

If you’ve landed on this page, chances are that you are looking for a new mobility device.

The only problem; you can’t seem to make up your mind on whether to get a mobility scooter or one of the many advertised power wheelchairs.

They are both personal mobility vehicles meant for people with disabilities and seniors. Whether to get one device over the other depends on many factors.

However, in general, an electric mobility scooter is best suited for individuals who have more mobile ability, while powered wheelchairs are meant for those with very limited mobility and those confined to wheelchairs.

Make

a side view of an elderly woman riding a mobility scooter

A mobility scooter is also referred to as a powered-operated vehicle and it is a device fitted with three or four wheels, handlebars, a swivel seat, and a flat area meant for the feet.

There are different types of mobility scooters, such as the compact mobility scooter, 4-wheel scooter, electric mobility scooter, and 3-wheel scooter.

Mobility scooters are either gasoline-powered or electric-powered, although the latter is more common.

Generally, a mobility scooter is larger than a power wheelchair and for you to use one, you need to have good balance, arm length, and control.

Unlike a wheelchair, a scooter cannot be customized to fit the needs of an individual. Scooters can however be fitted with rehab seat options like pressure relieving cushions.

Scooters have a large turning radius compared to wheelchairs.

What this means is that they are difficult to navigate within tight spaces or inside the house and are more ideal for rough terrain like outdoor use.

A power chair, on the other hand, comes with four or six wheels plus specialized seating options and a driving system.

You can either choose between electric wheelchairs and manual wheelchairs.

Unlike a scooter, it is possible to customize a power chair to fit the disability needs of the individual so that they have more independent control of the device.

Power wheelchairs are smaller than scooters and therefore can be used indoors with ease and to maneuver tight spaces like narrow hallways.

Power chairs have three components (the seating, base, and drive mechanism) all combined into a single system.

Wheelchairs can be fitted with leg rests, power tilt and recline as well as seat elevators. The drive mechanism is a programmable joystick whose speed and sensitivity can also be customized.

CHECK: Best Manual Wheelchair for Elderly

Mode of Operation

The biggest difference between a power chair and a mobility scooter is in how the two personal mobility vehicles are operated.

Manual or electric scooters are fitted with handlebars and a tiller for steering while power wheelchairs will have a joystick.

What largely determines which device to get is your range of mobility. Another difference is in the number of wheels where scooters have three or four wheels while a wheelchair will have six or more wheels.

electric wheelchair with large wheels

Most power wheelchairs will have two larger wheels and four smaller ones for added stability.

Wheelchairs come with a standard style seating although more styles are available depending on the disability needs of the person.

A scooter seat on the other will be a standard vinyl seating that can swivel. In terms of comfort, wheelchairs especially electric wheelchairs will have a foot platform that can be flipped aside when not in use.

The legroom on a mobility scooter varies from one device to another.

Use

A power wheelchair is a mobility device meant for individuals with very little mobility and it is therefore designed in such a way that it can be used indoors.

an elderly man riding a mobility scooter at the park

A mobility scooter for adults on the other hand is not categorized as a rehab mobility device, rather as a consumer product.

As such, the driving and seat functions aren’t customizable. The large turning radius on a scooter is what makes it unsuitable for maneuvering tight spaces.

People who have no special seating needs however and only need a device to aid transportation outside the house can do with a mobility scooter.

RELATED: Is it Safe to Buy Used Wheelchairs?

How to Decide Which One is Right for You

If you are a person with mobility issues and need a suitable device that will meet all your needs, you can either go for a mobility scooter or a power chair.

There are certain factors, however, that will determine the kind of device that you get at the end of the day.

Where Will the Device Be Used?

A motorized wheelchair is great especially if you have very limited mobility and seating needs.

While a wheelchair can be customized to fit the needs of an individual, most of them are designed with the needs of a person with special seating needs in mind.

While most electric wheelchairs and motorized scooters can be used indoors and outdoors on uneven terrain, a power wheelchair is more suited as an indoor mobility device.

The scooter’s wide range of turning makes it unsuitable for indoor use or even when maneuvering tight spaces.

Individual Needs

If you are buying a scooter, one thing you need to make sure of is that you can control the device and have a good balance.

Good arm strength and length, trunk, and fine motor control are also important when you are thinking of getting a scooter.

Generally, a power scooter is more of a consumer product than a piece of rehab equipment. If you want a rehab device, then a wheelchair is more than enough.

How You Will Pay for the Device

Believe it or not, how you intend to pay for the piece of equipment will also determine which device you will get.

Why is this so? Health insurance programs like Medicare can help meet a portion of the cost of any mobility device to be used at home as long as it is deemed necessary.

You will need to meet with a doctor to determine whether you need a scooter or power chair while considering other options like a walker, cane, or manual wheelchair.

If the doctor decides that you require a mobility scooter or a power wheelchair, Medicare will help you pay for it.

If the doctor decides that you don’t need a mobility device and you still feel like you need a scooter for your own transportation outside, then you need to have the budget to meet the cost.

You can also watch this video for more details:

FAQs 

Is a mobility scooter a wheelchair?

A mobility scooter is not a wheelchair due to the design and operation mode. A scooter comes with handlebars and has a larger turning radius which makes it the perfect device for outdoor use. A scooter also happens to be larger than a wheelchair and, therefore, harder to transport.

How fast can powered wheelchairs go?

senior disabled man riding an electric wheelchair which is one of the most convenient types of wheelchairs

The average speed of any powered wheelchair is 5 miles per hour although some models can achieve speeds of up to 10mph. Obviously, if you only need a powered chair to maneuver around the house, you don’t need a fast chair. If you need one for use outside the house where you need to negotiate local roads and parking lots, it makes sense to go for a much faster wheelchair.

Are motorized wheelchairs street legal?

Motorized wheelchairs are completely street legal. However, such wheelchairs can only be used on roads that have speed limits of below 35mph. This is unless you need to navigate a designed pedestrian crossing. If you are using a motorized wheelchair, you need to be on the lookout and you are expected to yield to non-motorized road users such as bicycles and pedestrians.

Conclusion

The power wheelchair vs scooter debate is not about to end anytime soon. If you are a senior or have disability issues and looking at personal mobility vehicles, you can either go for a powered wheelchair or a compact mobility scooter.

It can, however, be confusing when deciding between the two devices. How you intend to use the device, pay for it and your special individual needs are some of the factors to consider.

If you want a mobility device to use when navigating outdoors, a compact mobility scooter or a 4-wheel mobility scooter will do.

However, if you have severe mobility issues and want a rehab device, a limited mobility device like a powered wheelchair will come in handy.

References

  • “Choosing between a Mobility Scooter and a Power Wheelchair.” 2020. Karman® Wheelchairs. November 7, 2020. https://www.karmanhealthcare.com/deciding-between-electric-scooter-and-power-wheelchair/.
  • Lykins, David. 2015. “Power Wheelchair or Mobility Scooter? Advantages and Disadvantages of Each.” Med Mart. April 14, 2015. https://medmartonline.com/blog/power-wheelchair-or-mobility-scooter-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-each.
  • “What Medicare Covers | Medicare.” 2021. Medicare.gov. 2021. https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers.
a cute red mobility scooter with wooden basket in front

Power wheelchair vs scooter: which do you think is suitable for your needs? Please share with us below!

About Liliane

Lilian Wamaitha is a passionate writer and avid cyclist with over 4 years of experience in blogging. As a lifelong learner, she is driven by her curiosity to discover and learn new things. This curiosity and passion eventually sparked a love for the senior writing niche. She has written countless articles to help seniors find their footing in this world through healthy and holistic living. She’s passionate about seeing the seniors in society live a more fulfilling life to the end. Follow her on LINKEDIN

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