How Wide Are Most Wheelchairs

When we talk about mobility aids, particularly wheelchairs, one of the first questions many individuals and institutions ask is its size and, more specifically, its width. The average width of most wheelchairs is 28 inches, a measurement crucial to many aspects of a wheelchair user’s daily life, from maneuvering in tight spaces to passing through doorways.

Why 28 Inches is the Magic Number?

The 28-inch standard for wheelchairs comes from a practical need to make public spaces and homes accessible for all. This width ensures that most wheelchair users can easily navigate doorways and hallways and comfortably access public buildings and transport systems. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets guidelines for doorway widths, and 28 inches is aligned with ensuring compliance with these regulations.

Variations in Wheelchair Widths

Although 28 inches is the average and standard width, there is, in fact, a spectrum of widths available based on specific needs and the type of wheelchair in question.

Pediatric Wheelchairs

These are designed specifically for children and tend to be narrower. They can range from 24 to 26 inches in width.

Sport Wheelchairs

Used primarily for athletic activities, these wheelchairs are designed for agility and speed. Their widths vary widely depending on the sport, but they often range from 26 to 30 inches.

Bariatric Wheelchairs

Designed for users who require a sturdier frame and more space, bariatric wheelchairs can have widths ranging from 30 to 40 inches or even wider.

Transport Wheelchairs

These are typically narrower for ease of transportation, often ranging from 22 to 28 inches in width.

Factors Influencing Wheelchair Widths

While the primary determinant of a wheelchair’s width is its intended user and use, several other factors can influence the exact measurements.

Type of Wheelchair

Manual wheelchairs are typically narrower than power wheelchairs, as they do not need to accommodate the width of the motor and batteries.

Size of the User

Larger users may require a wider wheelchair to accommodate their body size.

Features of the Wheelchair

Some wheelchairs have features that can increase their width, such as armrests that swing away, footrests that extend, or a backrest that reclines.


Different manufacturers may have different standards for wheelchair width.


Some wheelchair users may opt for a custom-made chair catering to their body size and mobility needs. This can result in variations in standard widths.

Additional Equipment

Attachments such as oxygen tanks, motorized controls, or specialized cushioning systems can influence a wheelchair’s overall width.


Wheelchairs designed to be folded and transported might have a slightly different width than stationary ones.

How to Measure Wheelchair Width

The width of a wheelchair is measured from the outside of the rear wheels. To measure the width of your wheelchair, follow these steps:

  1. Sit in your wheelchair in a comfortable position.
  2. Have someone measure the distance between the outside edges of the rear wheels.
  3. Record the measurement in inches or centimeters.

The Importance of Wheelchair Width

The width of a wheelchair is important for several reasons, including:

  • Mobility: A wider wheelchair can be more difficult to maneuver, especially in tight spaces.
  • Accessibility: A wider wheelchair may not be able to fit through standard doorways or other narrow spaces.
  • Comfort: A wider wheelchair can provide more space for the user to move around and adjust their position.
  • Safety: A wider wheelchair can be more stable, especially when turning or going over uneven surfaces.

Considerations When Choosing Wheelchair Width

The width of a wheelchair plays a critical role in the comfort, safety, and overall experience of its user. When selecting the appropriate wheelchair width, it’s imperative to consider several factors to ensure optimal usability and function. Here’s an in-depth look at the key considerations:

1. User’s Physical Dimensions

  • Body Width: Measure the user’s widest part, typically the hips or thighs, and then add a few inches to ensure enough space for comfortable movement.
  • Weight: If the user is on the heavier side, a wider and sturdier wheelchair might be more appropriate. This might fall under the category of bariatric wheelchairs, which are specifically designed for heavier users.

2. Frequency of Use

  • Occasional Use: If the wheelchair is meant for occasional use, such as for trips outside the house, a standard width might suffice.
  • Prolonged Daily Use: For those who rely on their wheelchair throughout the day, comfort becomes paramount. A width that allows slight shifting and movement can prevent pressure sores and enhance comfort.

3. Type of Terrain

  • Indoors: For primarily indoor use, consider the width of doorways, corridors, and elevators in the user’s living space or frequently visited areas.
  • Outdoors: If the wheelchair is to be used outdoors frequently, a slightly wider wheelchair may provide more stability on uneven terrains.

4. Transportability

  • Travel Needs: If the wheelchair needs to be frequently folded and transported in a car or another vehicle, a slightly narrower model might be more practical.

5. Attachments and Accessories

  • Medical Equipment: Does the user require additional equipment like oxygen tanks or IV stands attached to the wheelchair? Ensure the chair can accommodate these without restricting space.
  • Storage: Some users might want storage pouches or bags attached to wheelchairs. Account for these when determining the optimal width.

6. Future Needs

  • Growth and Changes: It’s crucial to anticipate growth for children or teenagers. Similarly, for adults, potential changes in weight or health might necessitate a different wheelchair width in the future.
  • Adjustability: Some wheelchairs offer adjustable widths, which can be an excellent option for those unsure about their long-term needs.

7. Personal Comfort and Preferences

Every individual is unique, and personal preferences play a role. Some might prefer a snug fit, while others want more room to maneuver. It’s essential to involve the user in decision-making to ensure their comfort and satisfaction.

Bottom Line

While the standard width of 28 inches has been established for practical reasons, it’s essential to understand that wheelchair widths can and do vary. Manufacturers, institutions, and individuals must recognize these variations and make informed decisions based on specific needs. This ensures that every wheelchair user can move with ease, comfort, and dignity.

Jose Alpuerto

Written by

Jose Alpuerto

With a heart that beats for the young and young-at-heart alike, Jose dives headfirst into the world of tech wizardry and safety gadgets, all with the mission of turning aging at home into an adventure. Armed with a keyboard and an unquenchable enthusiasm, he spins tales of gadgets that bring laughter and ease to the lives of the elderly, proving that growing older doesn’t mean you can’t keep the spirit of play alive.