Original Research

Exploring the impact of wheelchair design on user function in a rural South African setting

Surona Visagie, Svenje Duffield, Mariaan Unger
African Journal of Disability | Vol 4, No 1 | a171 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v4i1.171 | © 2015 Surona Visagie, Svenje Duffield, Mariaan Unger | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 November 2014 | Published: 26 June 2015

About the author(s)

Surona Visagie, Centre for Rehabilitation studies, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Svenje Duffield, Division of Physiotherapy, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Mariaan Unger, Division of Physiotherapy, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


Background: Wheelchairs provide mobility that can enhance function and community integration. Function in a wheelchair is influenced by wheelchair design.

Objectives: To explore the impact of wheelchair design on user function and the variables that guided wheelchair prescription in the study setting.

Method: A mixed-method, descriptive design using convenience sampling was implemented. Quantitative data were collected from 30 wheelchair users using the functioning every day with a Wheelchair Scale and a Wheelchair Specification Checklist. Qualitative data were collected from ten therapists who prescribed wheelchairs to these users, through interviews. The Kruskal-Wallis test was used to identify relationships, and content analysis was undertaken to identify emerging themes in qualitative data.

Results: Wheelchairs with urban designs were issued to 25 (83%) participants. Wheelchair size, fit, support and functional features created challenges concerning transport, operating the wheelchair, performing personal tasks, and indoor and outdoor mobility. Users using wheelchairs designed for use in semi-rural environments achieved significantly better scores regarding the appropriateness of the prescribed wheelchair than those using wheelchairs designed for urban use (p = <0.01). Therapists prescribed the basic, four-wheel folding frame design most often because of a lack of funding, lack of assessment, lack of skills and user choice.

Conclusion: Issuing urban type wheelchairs to users living in rural settings might have a negative effect on users’ functional outcomes. Comprehensive assessments, further training and research, on long term cost and quality of life implications, regarding provision of a suitable wheelchair versus a cheaper less suitable option is recommended.


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Crossref Citations

1. A Systematic Review of Outcomes Measured Following New Wheelchair and Seating-Prescription Interventions in Adults
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Archives of Rehabilitation Research and Clinical Translation  vol: 5  issue: 1  first page: 100249  year: 2023  
doi: 10.1016/j.arrct.2022.100249