How Wide Is A Wheelchair?

standard wheelchair widthOften, when people have to integrate a wheelchair into their lives and homes it comes unexpectedly. Home design, furniture placement, and even simple choices like where boots and shoes are stored are all made from the perspective of someone who walks.

The introduction of a wheelchair changes everything, and usually forces people to rethink how someone in a chair can enter and navigate their home. And one of the first questions they will have in planning out the necessary adjustments is “How wide is a wheelchair?”

The width of a standard wheelchair is about 28″. There are heavy-duty models that are wider, and transport and child chairs that are narrower. But the typical chair is designed to fit through a 32″ door.

Reasons For Wheelchair Sizing

There is a standard government-approved guideline that gauges how wide a doorway is made in the United States. The minimum width for a doorway opening from the door face to the doorstop is 32”, as dictated by the ADA accessibility standard. This is because this is the bare minimum amount of clearance needed for a wheelchair user to comfortably fit their chair through the doorway.

This doorway range can be extended to 36” for a more comfortable fit, though it is not required by law. Although some wheelchairs, such as transport wheelchairs (see our review of the best lightweight transport wheelchairs), are specifically made slimmer than the average wheelchair to fit through spaces that are often times not intended for the standard wheelchair, such as quick transport in an emergency situation, the minimum size for any doorway in the United States is still strictly enforced by the ADA in order to allow individuals who are wheelchair bound the space to enter and exit a room without unnecessary complication.

For individuals who are wheelchair bound, whether it be for one day or for ten years, the amount of space between one area of access and another can be the difference between inclusion and exclusion, as many doorways are built at widths of only 23”. This size is much too small for the average wheelchair user to enter the room safely without injuring themselves on the framing of the doorway, or to even fit the side wheels through the entrance itself.

For an individual who is bound to a wheelchair, trying to enter into a facility through a doorway that does not comply to ADA standards is next to impossible. While it may seem slightly odd to the average person that there is a minimum standard for the size of a doorway, the ability for an individual who is confined to a wheelchair to have guaranteed access to a wide range of facilities, from health clinics to grocery stores, can add a level of independence back into their life, as well as allow them to continue their day to day activities unhindered.

Other Factors Beyond Door Width

If there is a sharp turn or blocked progression after the doorway, the ADA may require there to be a larger doorway to accommodate a turning radius for the wheelchair. This applies to the entering section of the doorway, as if there is a half wall or anything similar that may be blocking the approach for an individual in a wheelchair, as well as the exiting or continuing area of the space, where the wall of the room or the hallway may make further progression impossible.

While this may seem like a specific consideration, it is important to note that the number of individuals who rely entirely on wheelchairs for their only source of movement is between two and three million in the United States. If a building or business does not comply to these codes, besides being in violation of the ADA accessibility standard, they may be in a position to lose patronage from a significant portion of the population, as well as alienate a wide range of individuals.

Walkway Sizes For Wheelchairs

Along with doorway size restrictions due to the dimensions of the standard wheelchair, business and department stores are required to make sure their walkways are at least three feet across with a three foot by three foot space to allow for enough turning room at the ends of the aisles. This is provided to allow an individual to turn around easily without endangering themselves or other patrons of the establishment. This allows individuals in a wheelchair to easily browse within the store without having to worry about their wheelchair getting caught on the displays or other items.

While items within the store itself can be stored at any relative height as long as there is a worker nearby who is willing and able to retrieve these items if asked, ADA accessibility requirements do dictate that the sales counter must be at least 36” long and no more than 36” high from the ground in order to allow an individual in a wheelchair with a convenient surface that is not above the national standard. In order to allow for easy turning and queuing of patrons within the establishment, the checkout surface should have an area of at least 30” by 48” so that a wheelchair or an electric scooter can be turned without any issue.

Counter Heights For Wheelchairs

In order to accommodate individuals who are wheelchair bound within areas that provide food or drinks, wheelchair accessible tables and counters should be provided. The average dining table is often times not raised to a significant enough height to allow the 30” average lap height of a wheelchair to slide underneath cleanly.

When creating wheelchair-accessible dining spaces it is important to consider the width requirements of the wheelchair itself as well. The specificity of these surfaces often times requires that a special surfaces should be constructed to better serve these customers.

A place that serves food and drink should make sure their handicap accessible seating areas are clearly marked, and should ensure that they are at a reasonably placed location for the easy of use for these individuals, including the additional turning space needed to reach these areas as well as adequate clearance height to allow the wheelchair or power chair to be tucked under the table. Some counters can include retractable knee areas that allows a person who is wheelchair bound to easily pull up to the edge.

Wheelchair Ramp Requirements

outdoor wheelchair rampAnother thing to consider when looking at the width and size of a wheelchair is the ramp that leads up to a business. Any building must have reasonable ramp accessibility for their customers, including a ramp with a gradual incline that is wide enough to accommodate an individual.

Just like the minimum width for doorway space to accommodate how wide a wheelchair is 32″, a wheelchair ramp must be a minimum of 36” wide, and have an incline that does not exceed 1″ rise for every 12′ of the ramp. This means that for a ramp to raise two feet, the business will require at least 24 feet worth of ramp.

Having a girder rail installed for areas where there may be a steep drop off for your ramp is also key, as many times attempting to wheel a wheelchair up a ramp can be a gradual process, and if the ramp is close to an edge this can pose an additional threat to individuals who are wheelchair bound. Making sure that your front door, while wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, is also structured in such a way as to allow the user to easily open and enter through the doorway, is key to helping make your business more friendly to wheelchair users.

Updating Your Building For Wheelchair Access

While updating your place of business or any building to meet ADA accessibility standards may seem like an overwhelming list of requirements, the suggestions can be directly tied to the needs of individuals with limited mobility. For an individual who requires a minimum of 32″ space to enter a doorway, it is crucial to remember that they cannot simply get out of their chair and fold it to fit through the doorway easier.

These guidelines are put in place to meet the bare minimum requirements for the average wheelchair dimensions, and are used in tandem with accessible parking spaces and easy to use facilities in order to help return a level of autonomy to individuals with mobility issues. For the individual with limited mobility, meeting the bare minimum requirements can help them spend time at their favorite restaurants, or go shopping with their family, without having to fight against small doorways and crowded aisles.

Just like you would make sure to mark areas that may be slick with rain, or clear a walkway to your house in the snow, making sure that individuals who are wheelchair bound can access your facilities by providing adequate markers and indicators for these individuals can help prevent accidents, and can help make your business or personal living space more accommodating to these individuals.

Measuring A Person For Wheelchair Fitting

Here is an excellent YouTube video explaining the proper way to measure someone to fit them for a wheelchair:

More Information On Wheelchair Accessibility

If you are interested in finding out the dimensions of a wheelchair or power chair, or are looking to research how you can outfit your home or business to be more mobility-friendly for individuals who may benefit from additional mobility aids, consider reading the ADA requirements for accessibility as a starting place.

Doing your research on the size qualifications of various mobility devices, as well as working to create mobility-friendly spaces such as bar-assisted bathrooms and walk-in showers, can help make any space more friendly to individuals of all ranges of mobility.