Lived experiences of using ultra-light wheelchairs


Lay summary by Rori Wood

Edited by Rona Herzog, Crystal Han.

This is a lay summary of the article by ICORD researchers Dr. Jaimie Borisoff and  Dr. Ben Mortenson, and their colleagues Johanne Mattie, Leo Aitken-Mundhenk, and Lauren Bicknell. Read the original research article here.

What was the purpose of the study?

The study explored users’ experiences with an ultralight manual wheelchair that allowed on the fly adjustment of seat height and back angle. Specifically, the study explored whether the device made a difference in the user’s functionality and social participation.

How was the study conducted? 

  • Researchers used semi-structured interview, which included a series of open-ended questions. 
  • Participants were asked  
    • how they used their adjustable wheelchairs,
    • what activities they were used for,
    • how participants thought their social activities and employment were affected. 
  • Participants were also asked to demonstrate their ability to adjust the wheelchair.

What were the findings of the study?

When using the ultralight wheelchair, participants experienced:

  • an extended reach
  • increased ability to access high and low places 
  • increased feelings of stability 
  • increased comfort changing positions throughout the day may reduce pressure-induced tissue damage. 

Additionally, participants experienced changes in their day-to-day lives, including:

  • increased engagement in leisure activity 
  • increased likelihood of employment due to increased independence in movement.
  • increase in social inclusion and interaction due to the adjustments to the chair which allowed them to raise the chair up when conversing with others

Why is this study important?

This study suggests the chair’s on the fly adjustability may help those with SCI to participate more fully and safely in activities. 

For the participants, the ability to increase independent movements is important in increasing feelings of security and empowerment. In many cases throughout the study, participants reported a better social life due to the wheelchair’s adjustable functions, in addition to increased independence of movement. 

Because participants could raise the height of the chair, they reported able-bodied people looked down upon them less (and vice versa, ie., they did not have to look up as much as those who were standing during conversations). Participants reported that this made others more likely to engage in conversation with them as equals. This may promote feelings of social acceptance and belonging. 

Finally, the participants found that the adjustable functions in the height of the chair made other people more aware of them and provide them with increased personal space and visibility. 

What were limitations of the study?

There were factors of the wheelchair that were not discussed in the interview that may have been important to consider in order to determine the overall functionality of the chair, including transportability, maneuverability, and the weight of the chair. Also, the study included a relatively small number of participants. 

Key terms:

Pressure-induced tissue damage– prolonged pressure on certain parts of the body which decreases blood flow to the area and damages the underlying tissue of the area. This is common in the butt and heels of wheelchair users.