How Wide Is a Wheelchair?

Last Updated: 12.04.24


Most of the times, people who need to use a wheelchair have to integrate it into their lives in a rather unexpected way, which means that their home is not necessarily ready to accommodate such a device. If you find yourself in a similar situation and you could also use a hand choosing a top-rated travel wheelchair, our article might come in handy so check it out.  

Going back to the way our homes are normally designed, everything from the way the furniture is placed to where the shoes are stored is made from the point of view of someone who walks. Things are very different once a family member becomes wheelchair-bound or even needs a hoyer lift (see our recommended products) and this tends to change everything.


A wheelchair’s width

You might have already realized this if you’re wondering how wide a wheelchair is in order to determine if it can be used to move around for both indoor and outdoor use. In most cases, certain adjustments need to be made within a home in order to accommodate the needs of a disabled family member.

The average width of the standard wheelchair is of around 28 inches. However, this is more of a rule of thumb, since there are multiple alternatives on the market and heavy-duty ones tend to be wider, while those for children are usually narrower. What you should keep in mind is that an average wheelchair should be designed to fit through 32” wide door frames.

We rarely think about the width of a door since unless we find ourselves in situations that require planning and having someone use a wheelchair is definitely one of those. You might not be aware of this, but the 32” wide doorway is actually a measurement regulated by government-approved guidelines and by the ADA accessibility standard.



A few words about regulations

In fact, this is the minimum amount of space needed by wheelchair users to be able to fit the chair through a doorway in a comfortable way. However, this is just the minimum, so if you want to ensure an enhanced and more comfortable fit, a 36” wide doorway might be the way to go, although this is not something required by law.

Certain types of wheelchairs, such as the ones specially made for transport, are narrower than the average one in order to fit through spaces with ease and thus provide versatility.

This certainly comes in handy for potential emergency situations, but for the rest of the cases, you can rest assured that the 32” wide doorway is and should be enforced within the United States. On the other hand, the truth is that some buildings don’t follow this regulation so there might be issues when it comes to ensuring wheelchair access.

The risks involve the user getting injured on the door’s framing, or the wheelchair to not go through it at all. It doesn’t matter if an individual needs to use a wheelchair for a day or for years to come. Having access to certain spaces can certainly make the difference between exclusion or inclusion.

Unfortunately, for someone who needs to use a wheelchair, having access into a building or facility that doesn’t comply to ADA standards is almost impossible. While for many of us this is not a daily issue, for someone who is confined to a wheelchair things are very different.


The importance of having proper accessibility

The ability to have access to various facilities, such as the grocery store or the health clinic, can mean maintaining a healthy level of independence. After all, the importance of mental health and of a positive attitude cannot be understated, especially in a situation like this.

Otherwise, especially when it comes to elderly individuals who lack a certain degree of independence due to their age as well, not being able to perform everyday tasks can lead to frustration, hopelessness, and in the end, it can even cause depression.

According to recent data, the number of individuals who rely on wheelchairs as the only means to move around is somewhere between 2 and 3 million, which goes to show the importance of following the ADA accessibility standard across the country. Moreover, there are other factors that can influence access within a facility beside the door’s width.

One of these can be the turning radius that a wheelchair needs, especially for the entering section of a doorway, since if there’s something blocking the access, anyone needs to be able to go back and avoid that doorway in order to further move around a building.


What about the walkways?

Just as the entrance within a space is important, so is being able to move around it. That’s why businesses, shopping malls, and stores have regulations they need to follow as well. The walkways need to be at least three feet wide across, and they also need to provide enough room to turn around at the end of every aisle, by creating spaces that are 3-foot by 3-foot wide.

Implementing these measurements allows wheelchair users to browse through the store, without having to worry that the device might get caught within the items displayed on the shelves.

The height at which the items are displayed doesn’t matter since a worker can provide assistance if needed, but the sales counter does need to be at least 36” long and 36” high at most. The same goes for restaurants that are serving food and drinks since the tables and counters need to comply with certain measurements for the same reasons.

On the other hand, these guidelines are not always followed, so many times the average dining table is not raised enough to allow a standard wheelchair to slide underneath it in an easy way. Therefore, when someone wants to create wheelchair-accessible dining spaces, it’s a good idea to consider all the measurements of such a unit in order to ensure a pleasant experience.

Another factor to be considered when it comes to restaurants is that they should clearly mark the seats that are accessible for individuals with disabilities, as well as ensure there’s enough space to turn a wheelchair around.



Ramp requirements

Of course, another key aspect of ensuring the necessary access is the size of the ramp that makes the connection with the entrance within a certain facility. This should have a gradual incline and be wide enough to fit a wheelchair and its user without hindered movements.

In terms of measurements, such a ramp should be at least 36” wide, and provide an incline that rises by 1” at most for every 12” of the ramp run. Moreover, a girder rail is also a useful addition for those areas that might involve a steeper drop off. Many times, the action of climbing onto a ramp can be a gradual process, which means that if there are edges included, they can pose additional threats to those who need to use it.

Given the particular needs of individuals who use wheelchairs to move around, if someone close to you is in this situation, then there might be many changes to be made around the spaces that he or she is using. What you should remember is that ensuring the proper level of independence is crucial to avoid any exclusion and maintain a positive outlook.



Leave a comment

0 COMMENTS Protection Status