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Using a wheelchair in and out of the home

It may be necessary to make some adjustments in and around the home if you use a wheelchair. We explain what you need to consider.
5 min read
In this article
Adjusting doorways for wheelchairs  Installing a ramp in your home  When to consider installing a lift Downstairs bathroom
Powered wheelchairs: charging and storage More help with powered wheelchairs How to keep warm in a wheelchair

Adjusting doorways for wheelchairs 

Doors and door frames can be awkward for wheelchair users, especially if they have to be approached at an angle. A suitable width is usually 800mm, but the wider the door width, the easier the access will be and 900–1,000mm would be considered ideal.

It’s sometimes possible to enlarge the size of the door frame itself if you only need to make a minor alteration. If the need for widening is more significant, you could replace the door with a larger frame or even install two doors. Some people prefer sliding doors for ease of use. Talk to a carpenter to see what your options are.

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Installing a ramp in your home 

You may benefit from having a permanent ramp installed outside for access purposes, but this is not always practical, and will depend on the property and your needs. You could consider a portable ramp, which is made of lighter materials and usually less expensive than permanent options. 

Short rubber ramps are available to help wheelchair users negotiate small steps, but generally larger steps inside the property will restrict access. In this situation, it may be appropriate to consult with an occupational therapist (OT), who will be able to advise on potential property modifications.

Inside the property, any level changes will cause an obstruction. If it’s a small door sill, this can normally be resolved with a portable ramp that fits over the sill and allows the wheelchair to manoeuvre over the top. Alternatively, it may be possible to remove the sill and level the entrance.

Find out more about the different types of ramps available, how to fit them and where to buy them in our article on ramps for the home.


When to consider installing a lift

If your home is on more than one floor, a lift installation may be an option. Stairlifts are generally not suitable for a person using a wheelchair, but a wheelchair lift or platform lift could be another option.

The space requirements for a lift are usually significant, taking up space on each floor, so, again, it would be worth consulting an OT to see if this is a viable option.

Downstairs bathroom

If you live in a house with two or more floors, having a properly equipped downstairs bathroom (unless a lift can be installed) that can accommodate a wheelchair will be very important. This may involve making significant adjustments to the existing setup or even installing a new bathroom. 

Find more guidance about these adaptations in our article on bathroom adaptations.


Powered wheelchairs: charging and storage

Powered wheelchairs need to be charged regularly. Most wheelchair batteries can take up to 10 hours to charge and doing so overnight will mean the wheelchair is ready for use during the day.

The wheelchair should be stored in a cool, dry and well-ventilated area while it’s charging. Check that you will have a suitable place to do this before acquiring the wheelchair. Bear in mind that it could be a safety hazard to keep it in the bedroom during the night.

Read the manual that comes with the powered wheelchair thoroughly before you use, store and charge it, taking note of any additional recommendations and precautions.

For more information about the differences between manual and electric wheelchairs, and how to customise yours to make it as comfortable as possible, read Choosing a wheelchair.

More help with powered wheelchairs

Driving Mobility is a charity that provides assessments, advice and guidance around the use of electric mobility equipment. At some of their centres they can provide training for new users of electric wheelchairs or mobility scooters.

Find your nearest Driving Mobility centre.

How to keep warm in a wheelchair

Keeping warm when sitting outdoors in a wheelchair in cold weather can be challenging. To prepare for cold weather, investigate the range of wheelchair accessories that are available.

For example, if wearing multiple layers or a thick coat feels too bulky when sitting in a wheelchair, seat liners are a good option. Padded cushions and simple fleeces to prevent the cold seeping through the seat and back canvas can also help avoid compromising on comfort.

If you have poor circulation in your hands and feet, heated insoles and gloves could be a good choice.

A wheelchair ‘cosy’ (rather like a lined sleeping bag for the legs) can help keep the cold out, too, and they are usually easy to use and zip up. Wheelchair shawls pull over the head and around the shoulders, and have a high collar to keep out draughts.

If you have poor circulation in your hands and feet, heated insoles and gloves could be a good choice. There are disposable options available which, when activated, last up to four hours. Alternatively, opt for similar, rechargeable battery-operated products which you can use repeatedly.

Keeping dry outdoors

Waterproof clothing can often be enough to help you stay dry in rainy weather if you are mobile enough to move around without a wheelchair or scooter.

However, if you have mobility issues, wheelchair capes and macs provide whole-body coverage to keep the rain at bay. They are available with hoods, and with or without sleeves – just make sure you find one that’s fully wind and waterproof.

Additionally, there are special umbrellas that attach to the backs of wheelchairs. Sometimes, it may be better to delay a trip if the weather is particularly bad. It can be very tricky to avoid the potential discomfort caused by heavy rain, as the water can sometimes collect in the seat area.

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Further reading

Choosing a wheelchair

Read about the differences between manual and electric wheelchairs and how to customise yours for greater comfort.

Wheelchair hire

How to hire wheelchairs using schemes such as Motability, Shopmobility and the Disabled Living Foundation.

Last updated: 29 Aug 2019