What is the Width of a Standard Wheelchair?

While buying a wheelchair, have you ever wondered what is the width of a standard wheelchair?

The width of a standard wheelchair is 28 inches. A standard wheelchair is designed to fit through a 32-inch wide door.

But there are some other factors too when it comes to wheelchair width. There are heavy-duty wheelchairs for bariatric users that are wider (as much as 40 inches). Then there are transport and child (pediatric) wheelchairs that are narrower (as less as 18 inches).

standard wheelchair width

A standard wheelchair is width 28 inches, meant to fit through a 32 inch doorway

The introduction of a wheelchair may change many things around the house. Unless you are using a lightweight transport wheelchair, you may need to rethink how the wheelchair user will enter and navigate the house. What all passages and doorways might potentially become inaccessible?

What are the reasons for a standard wheelchair width?

There is a standard government-approved guideline that determines 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 inches, as dictated by the ADA accessibility standard. This is to ensure that a wheelchair user has minimum clearance to comfortably fit their chair through the doorway.

A doorway width can be extended to 36 inches for a more comfortable fit, though it is not required by law. Some wheelchairs are specifically made narrower than the average wheelchair. They are designed to fit through spaces that are oftentimes not intended for the standard wheelchair. They are the most useful for quick transport in an emergency situation.

For individuals who are wheelchair-bound, whether it be for one day or for many years, a doorway’s width can mean the difference between inclusion and exclusion. It is not uncommon to come across narrow doorways, as wide as only 23 inches. This is too narrow for the average wheelchair user to cross the doorway safely without injuring themselves on the frame or even scrape and damage the doorway.

Sharp turns and blockages in the path are other factors to consider when it comes to safe and comfortable transport for wheelchair-bound people. If there is a sharp turn or some sort of blockage in the passage after the doorway, more space will be needed for the turning radius of the wheelchair.

For someone who is bound to a wheelchair, trying to enter a facility through a doorway that does not comply to ADA standard of doorway width may be next to impossible. Indeed, the ability of a wheelchair-bound person to have access to different parts of their house or facilities like health clinics and grocery stores can add much independence to their life. It can also allow them to continue their day to day activities unhindered.

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Width of a Standard Wheelchair and Commercial Spaces

Commercial building owners need to make sure that all the relevant spaces in their buildings are accessible. This means thoughtful design of the entrance, passages, aisles, counter and furniture placement.

Sometimes commercial establishments place a blockage in passages to slow down foot traffic movement. If your commercial establishment has something like this, it is important to make sure that the section of the passage can be traversed by a standard width wheelchair (28 inches).

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

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 or aisles are at least three feet across. They should also have a three-foot by three-foot space at the ends of the aisles to allow for enough turning radius for a wheelchair. This will allow a person to turn around easily without endangering themselves or other patrons of the establishment.

Products 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 dictate that the checkout counter must be at least 36 inches long and no more than 34 inches high from the ground, keeping in mind a person sitting in a wheelchair.

In order to allow for easy turning and queuing of patrons within the establishment, the ends of a checkout area should have a space of at least 36 inches by 48 inches so that a wheelchair or an electric scooter can be turned without any issue. It is always the best to consult someone from ADA compliance team to know the specifics of your store space design.

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 oftentimes not high enough 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. Often, it is required that special surfaces should be built to better serve wheelchair-bound customers.

A place that serves food and drink should make sure their accessible seating areas are clearly marked. These areas should be at a reasonably placed location for easy access. There should be additional turning space as well as adequate clearance provided to allow the manual wheelchair or power wheelchair 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

Another thing to consider when looking at the width and size of a wheelchair is the ramp that leads up to a business. Commercial establishments must have reasonable ramp accessibility for their customers, including a ramp with a gradual incline that is wide enough to accommodate someone in a wheelchair.

The width of a wheelchair ramp will depend on the width of a standard wheelchair

Just like the minimum width for doorway space, a wheelchair ramp must be a minimum of 36 inches wide and have an incline that does not exceed 1-inch rise for every 12 inches of the ramp. This means that for a ramp to rise two feet, the business will require at least a 24 feet long ramp.

Having a girder rail installed for areas where there may be a steep drop off for your ramp is also important. Attempting to wheel a wheelchair up or down a ramp should be a gradual process, and if the ramp is close to an edge this can pose an additional risk. Make 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 or exit. These steps are key to helping make your business more friendly to wheelchair users.

Wheelchair ramps in commercial establishments are mostly permanent structures. If you need one for home use, you can consider buying a temporary or portable wheelchair ramp. Have a quick look at our list of top best temporary wheelchair ramps.

How to calculate the length of a ramp for a wheelchair?

The length of the ramp for a wheelchair depends on the type of building. Wheelchair ramp length is different for a commercial building versus a residential building. Below we have a wheelchair ramp calculator for you to calculate the ramp length, given a particular ramp rise (vertical height the ramp needs to rise).

by concalculator.com

Updating Your Building For Standard Wheelchair Width

Updating your place of business or any building to meet ADA accessibility standards may seem like an overwhelming task. While undertaking such an exercise, it is important that the person making the changes (the contractor, for example) is aware of ADA standards. If there is a doubt, it is the best to consult someone from ADA compliance team. It is easier and less expensive in the long run to plan these modifications well so that a business can reduce the risk of expensive retrofits or lawsuits.

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

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

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 more about the dimensions of a manual or power wheelchair 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.

More Information on Different Kinds of Wheelchairs

We cover the topic of wheelchairs extensively through this website. If you want more information on different kinds of wheelchairs, you can read in-depth articles on narrow width electric wheelchairs or the best wheelchairs for scoliosis. If you are in Canada, you might be interested in knowing about the best electric wheelchairs available in Canada.

If you like to be outdoors, you will need a good wheelchair for outdoor use. Such wheelchairs are sturdy and rugged. They also have a longer driving range so that you can explore the outdoors.

Conversely, if you spend a lot of time indoors, you might prefer wheelchairs that have a tight turning radius. Mid wheel drive wheelchairs allow you to do so. Mid wheel drive wheelchairs have their drive wheels in the middle, right below the user. That allows them to practically turn in place.

Drive wheels of a mid wheel drive wheelchair are in the middle

Drive wheels of a mid wheel drive wheelchair are in the middle which gives the wheelchair a tight turning radius

More Information Wheelchair Accessories

As you start becoming comfortable with your wheelchair, you will like to get some accessories for it. Wheelchair accessories make life easier for a wheelchair user.

Many manual wheelchairs do not come with a headrest. Having said that, you do have the option of buying additional head rest for your wheelchair and install it yourself. There are many options available online that you can choose from.

Some wheelchairs have solid rubber tires but many have inflatable tires. You will do well to have a wheelchair tire pump handy if your wheelchair has inflatable tires.

Many electric wheelchairs have leather or synthetic leather original covers. They may not be too breathable or may not provide the best insulation during the cold. If that is the case, you can explore the option of adding additional wheelchair seat covers.

For people needing additional storage for their wheelchairs, you have the option of buying additional storage bags that fit onto your wheelchair. These bags make it easier for a wheelchair user to do day to day activities like grocery shopping or moving with your medication.

Lastly, many manual wheelchair do not come with seat belts. And seat belts can be a very important safety device for wheelchair users. If your wheelchair does not have them pre-installed, you can buy seat belts for your wheelchair for additional safety.

We hope that with all this information, you are more knowledgeable about wheelchairs, their dimensions, different kinds of wheelchairs, and the accessories available for them.

Gaurav Dhir, B. Tech, is an engineer by training. He also holds the degree of PGDCM from the prestigious IIM Calcutta. Gaurav is responsible for the health and wellness of 4 generations including his son, elderly parents and very elderly grandparents. He is a wellness aficionado and loves keeping and staying healthy.

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