Powerchairs, also known as electric wheelchairs, and mobility scooters are designed to help people with limited mobility move around independently. If you are undecided about which piece of equipment might be suitable for you or someone that you care for, here are some points to consider.

Assess your capabilities

The main difference between a powered wheelchair and a mobility scooter is the physical mobility needed to operate them. The user of a mobility scooter needs to have the ability to hold out their arms and steer the tiller for the duration of the travel. There will usually be a need to fold up the armrests to climb on and off the platform to sit and dismount. 

Depending on the make and model of the scooter, the user may need the ability to sit up unsupported and not be at risk of falling from the seat. Some models have headrests and seatbelts for extra security. Four-wheeled scooters offer a greater degree of stability than three wheels. 

Powerchairs are controlled by a joystick or control pad that can be operated one-handed. The controls can be customised for users who do not have use of their hands, for example by voice command or small facial movements. They are more suitable for people who lack the strength to sit up independently.

Consider how it will be used

Evaluate how the mobility aid will be used on a daily basis. For example, will it be mainly used indoors or outdoors? Powerchairs are the best choice for indoors because they tend to be less bulky and more manoeuvrable. 

If the aid will primarily be used outdoors, consider the type of terrain and distance you will be travelling. Scooters tend to be faster and better at handling rough terrain than powerchairs, and are able to cover larger distances on a single charge. However, some powerchairs are specifically designed for outdoor use.

If you want to transport  your mobility aid frequently in a vehicle, train or plane, consider a lightweight model that can be semi-dismantled if necessary. 

Mobility scooters are suited to people who prefer to perform most everyday tasks such as shopping or visiting family or healthcare centres independently. They may be ambulatory but find walking for longer distances tiring or painful, or are recovering from an illness or operation.

Take a test drive

If you are still undecided about which device may be the most suitable for you, it is possible to visit a mobility aid store and test drive different options before making a decision. Consider how comfortable and supportive you find the seating, and how easily you can use the controls to manoeuvre. 

Ensure that the device can safely accommodate your bodyweight and any extra accessories or loads, such as shopping bags or healthcare equipment that you may need to transport. Remember that many devices can be individually customised to suit your needs, so it’s worth consulting a healthcare professional or salesperson for advice.