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A woman in a motorized wheelchair

A motorized wheelchair or electric-powered wheelchair (EPW) is a wheelchair that is moved around by means of an electric motor and navigational controls rather than manual power. Motorized wheelchairs are useful for those who are too weak to or otherwise unable to move around themselves in a manual wheelchair. They may also be issued to those with cardiovascular conditions.



The electric-powered wheelchair was invented by George Klein who worked for the National Research Council of Canada, to assist injured veterans during World War II.[1]


Four general styles of electric powered chairs (EPWs) exist: rear, center, front wheel driven or four wheel driven. two other types are the tracked wheelchairs i.e, the track about EPW or the tank chair that uses atv tracks Each style has particular handling characteristics. EPWs are also divided by seat type; some models resemble manual chairs, with a sling-style seat and frame, whereas others have 'captain's chair' seating like that of an automobile. EPWs run the gamut from small and portable models, which can be folded or disassembled, to very large and heavy full-featured chairs (these are often called 'rehab' chairs).

EPWs may be designed specifically for indoor use, outdoor use, or both. They are generally prescribed for persons who have difficulty using a manual chair due to arm, hand, shoulder or more general disabling conditions, and do not have the leg strength to propel a manual chair with their feet, a practice not generally recommended by most Allied Health Professionals (AHPs).

The user typically controls speed and direction by operating a joystick on a controller. Many other input devices can be used if the user lacks coordination or the use of the hands or fingers, such as chin controls and sip-and-puff scanners for those with C2-3 spinal cord lesions or head injuries (the user blows into a tube located near the mouth, which controls the movement of the chair). This controller is the most delicate and usually the most expensive part of the chair. EPWs can offer various powered functions such as tilt, recline, leg elevation, seat elevation, and others useful or necessary to health and function.

EPWs use electric motors to move the wheels. They are usually powered by 4 or 5 amp deep-cycle rechargeable batteries, similar to those used to power outboard boat engines. These are available in wet or dry options; currently dry cell batteries are more popular. Many EPWs carry an on-board charger which can be plugged into a standard wall outlet; older or more portable models may have a separate charger unit.


A person with full function of the arms and upper torso will generally be prescribed a manual chair, or may find that their insurance will not cover an electric power wheelchair.

While an EPW eliminates much of the manual strength problems of an unpowered wheelchair, its tiller steering mechanism still requires upright posture, shoulder and hand strength, and some upper-body mobility and strength. Other drawbacks to EPWs are their longer length, which limits their turning radius and ability to use some lifts or wheelchair-designed access technologies such as kneeling bus lifts. Often an EPW has a low ground clearance which can make it difficult to navigate certain obstacles, such as traveling in cities without proper curb cuts. Navigating nursing home rooms, where space is often limited, can also be a problem.

EPWs also have fewer options for body support, such as head or leg rests. They are rarely designed for ease of patient transfer from seat to bed. These limitations may prevent some disabled individuals from using scooters. In addition, scooter limitations may vary depending on model and manufacturer. A limitation of one make/model does not necessarily carry over to all. Individual needs may affect the suitability of a particular model.

Currently in the United States, Medicare and some private insurance companies will not approve a power wheelchair for persons who do not need to use the chair "inside their own home," even if their medical needs restrict them to the use of a power chair. For example, a person with severe arthritis of both shoulders and hands may have difficulty in using a manual chair, but because they can walk a few steps in their own home, such persons are not seen as approved candidates for a power wheelchair either. Various disability rights groups are campaigning for Medicare to change this policy.

See also




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