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Discover our wide selection of textbook content and advanced teaching tools. View a sample course, read testimonials or sign up for a free instructor account today. Choose from more than 900 textbooks from leading academic publishing partners along with additional resources, tools, and content. Subscribe to our Newsletter Get the latest tips, news, and developments. A wheelchair, often abbreviated to just “chair”, is a chair with wheels, used when walking is difficult or impossible due to illness, injury, or disability. Depiction of Chinese philosopher Confucius in a wheelchair, dating to ca. The artist may have been thinking of methods of transport common in his own day.
The earliest records of wheeled furniture are an inscription found on a stone slate in China and a child’s bed depicted in a frieze on a Greek vase, both dating between the 6th and 5th century BCE. Although the Europeans eventually developed a similar design, this method of transportation did not exist until 1595 when an unknown inventor from Spain built one for King Phillip II. In 1655, Stephan Farffler, a 22 year old paraplegic watchmaker, built the world’s first self-propelling chair on a three-wheel chassis using a system of cranks and cogwheels. The invalid carriage or Bath chair brought the technology into more common use from around 1760. Atlantic City so invalid tourists could rent them to enjoy the Boardwalk. Soon, many healthy tourists also rented the decorated “rolling chairs” and servants to push them as a show of decadence and treatment they could never experience at home.
Herbert Everest, both mechanical engineers, invented the first lightweight, steel, folding, portable wheelchair. Everest had previously broken his back in a mining accident. There are a wide variety of types of wheelchair, differing by propulsion method, mechanisms of control, and technology used. Some wheelchairs are designed for general everyday use, others for single activities, or to address specific access needs. Innovation within the wheelchair industry is relatively common, but many innovations ultimately fall by the wayside, either from over-specialization, or from failing to come to market at an accessible price-point. There will generally also be a separate seat cushion. Everyday manual wheelchairs come in two major varieties, folding or rigid.
Folding chairs are generally low-end designs, whose predominant advantage is being able to fold, generally by bringing the two sides together. However this is largely an advantage for part-time users who may need to store the wheelchair more often than use it. Rigid wheelchairs, which are increasingly preferred by full-time and active users, have permanently welded joints and many fewer moving parts. Many rigid models are now made with ultralight materials such as aircraft-grade aluminium and titanium, and wheelchairs of composite materials such as carbon-fibre have started to appear.
Ultra lightweight rigid wheelchairs are commonly known as ‘active user chairs’ as they are ideally suited to independent use. Rigid-framed chairs are generally made to measure, to suit both the specific size of the user and their needs and preferences around areas such as the “tippyness” of the chair – its stability around the rear axle. Experienced users with sufficient upper-body strength can generally balance the chair on its rear wheels, a “wheelie”, and the “tippyness” of the chair controls the ease with which this can be initiated. Wheels are rubber-tired and may be solid, pneumatic or gel-filled.