A wheelchair is defined as a chair fitted with wheels. The device comes in variations, allowing either manual propulsion by the seated occupant turning the rear wheels manually, or electric propulsion by motors. There are often handles behind the seat to allow for different individuals to push. Wheelchairs are used by people for whom walking is difficult or impossible due to illness, injury, or disability. People who have difficulty sitting and walking often make use of a wheelbench.
Manual wheelchairs are just that, wheelchairs that are propelled by good old fashioned muscle power or in the case of transport wheelchairs that can be pushed by someone walking behind the wheelchair. There are a number of very different types of manual wheelchairs that range from ultra-lightweight to heavy duty. More specifically, manual wheelchairs fall into one or more types or styles of wheelchair.
A motorized wheelchair, powerchair, electric wheelchair or electric-powered wheelchair (EPW) is a wheelchair that is propelled by means of an electric motor (usually using differential steering) rather than manual power. Motorized wheelchairs are useful for those unable to propel a manual wheelchair or who may need to use a wheelchair for distances or over terrain which would be fatiguing in a manual wheelchair. They may also be used not just by people with 'traditional' mobility impairments, but also by people with cardiovascular and fatigue-based conditions.
HISTORY OF THE WHEELCHAIR
No one knows exactly when the first wheelchair was invented, however its origins date back to ancient times. The earliest records of a wheeled transportation device were found in a stone carving in China and an image on a Greek vase of a wheeled child’s bed. The first known wheelchair purposefully designed for disability and mobility was called an “invalid’s chair”. It was invented in 1595 specifically for King Phillip II of Spain. The chair had small wheels attached to the end of a chair’s legs and it included a platform for Phillip’s legs and an adjustable backrest. It could not be self-propelled but most likely the King always had servants transporting him around.
In 1783, John Dawson of Bath, England invented a wheelchair and named it after his town. The Bath wheelchair had two large wheels in the back and one small one in the front. The user would steer the chair by a stiff handle, but all the Bath designs had to be pushed or pulled by a donkey or horse, as they were heavy. The Bath wheelchair did outsell all other models of wheelchairs for 40 years.
Skipping forward to 1655, Steven Farffler was a young German watchmaker with a disability that limited his mobility. He is the first known person to invent and use a wheelchair that could be independently propelled. It was a stable chair mounted on a 3-wheeled chassis with attached handles on both sides of the front wheel used to propel the chair forward. Mr. Farffler, who is believed to have had paraplegia, created the wheelchair himself when he was only 22 years old!
Perhaps the most commercially successful wheelchair to be marketed was the revolutionary ‘X-frame’ folding wheelchair. Developed in the 1930s by American engineers Harry Jennings and Herbert Everest – after the latter became paraplegic in a mining accident – the relatively lightweight and easily transportable chair is still familiar today.
Electric-powered wheelchairs were invented by George Klein and others to assist injured veterans after WWII. As you know, designs from then have consistently improved in size, weight and to adapt to an individual’s needs.