Rigid Frame Chairs Versus Folding Frame Chairs
There was a time, back in the 1970s and early 80s, that the vast majority of wheelchairs were folding frame. That has changed dramatically over the years. At some point in the mid -1980s, I went from my folding chair to a rigid frame chair and have stuck with rigid frame ever since. So, what is the advantages and disadvantages of rigid and folding frame wheelchairs?
Let’s start with a general statement: Well designed and fitted rigid frame wheelchairs perform better than well designed and fitted folding wheelchairs! Rigid frame chairs are more rigid, have less flex in the frame and are easier to push. A quick look at wheelchair sports wheelchairs shows that, for sports that require speed and agility, no one plays in a folding frame wheelchair.
Rigid frame chairs are also generally significantly lighter as there are
less parts and hardware (eg. Crossbars, fold up footplates, removable legrests). This is important for people who lift their own wheelchair in
and out of the car, and is also one of the reasons they are easier to
push. Rigid frame wheelchairs have less moving parts (eg. folding
cross bars, removable side guards, flip up footrests) which results in
less maintenance and breakages. Because they are welded into a rigid frame they are stronger and hold up to the rigors of travel, knocks, and bumps much better.
In addition, rigid frame chairs are generally able to be built with a lot more customisation. It is important to understand the difference
between custom made and custom configurable. A truly custom-made
wheelchair will be built around the person and not have limited options on measurement like front leg hanger angles, seat length, seat width, backrest height and angle, position of front castors etc. A good indication of whether something is custom made is to ask if the manufacturer can provide a CAD drawing of the wheelchair.
Given all the advantages of rigid frame chairs, why would someone use a folding frame chair? If someone has been using a folding frame wheelchair for a while and has developed their technique for transportation and are happy with the performance, then they will likely stay with what they are familiar with and is working for them.
A good number of people use roof mounted hoists on their vehicles that work best with folding wheelchairs. This in itself is reason enough to stick with a folding chair. Another strong reason people will use a folding chair is for transfers, especially standing transfers. With lift up footrests and swing away legrests, folding frame wheelchairs work much better for standing transfers.
Some people find folding frame wheelchairs easier to store and lift into vehicles. While the advancements in rigid frame chairs have made them smaller and very convenient to store in vehicles, and are lighter to lift, some people find folding frames work better for them.
Finally, folding frame wheelchairs work better for people who foot propel their wheelchairs. The option for “hemi” height with swing away legrests makes foot propelling possible.
Overall there are significant advantages to rigid frame chairs over folding frame chairs, but in the end it boils down to what the user prefers!