Girl Operating a Power Wheelchair Riding Alongside her Friend on the Street

How to Properly Use an Electric Wheelchair

Blog, Mobility

Adapting to life in a wheelchair may not be an easy transition. Agreeably, a wheelchair is more than a necessary mobility aid for you or your loved ones. It also improves the quality of life by providing the independence needed to move around normally like other people. Depending on your needs and your physician’s recommendations, you may opt for a heavy-duty, full-size, travel, or folding electric wheelchair. In addition, it is essential for you to know how to use an electric wheelchair and care for it.

For example, unlike manual wheelchairs, electric wheelchairs are powered by a rechargeable battery. The user controls the wheelchair using a joystick from the control panel. It’s things like this you should keep in mind and that’s what we’ll be going over in this article.

Get to know your power wheelchair 

Knowing how to use an electric wheelchair safely lowers the risk of injury while also keeping the wheelchair in tip-top condition. As a general rule, read the user manual over and over until you are sure that you are familiar with operating the wheelchair. This includes the safety precautions, as well as the maintenance measures.  

Next, ensure that your electric wheelchair is fully charged every time before use. To be on the safe side, turn off your wheelchair every time it’s not in use (except when it’s charging). Charge it every night or when the charge depletes by 80% to keep it on a full charge. Most wheelchairs, take between six and eight hours to fully charge.  

Therefore, plugging it to charge overnight will certainly give you some peace of mind. Remember to charge your wheelchair every night regardless of whether you have used it or not. This is also an important battery care routine for longer battery life.

Watch video: How to Operate an Electric Wheelchair Step-By-Step

Types of power wheelchairs

The video above goes over factors including the five types of power wheelchairs which are:  

  • Folding power wheelchair  
  • Travel power wheelchair  
  • Full-size power wheelchair  
  • Folding electric wheelchair 
  • Heavy-duty power wheelchair  

Parts that make up a power wheelchair 

Before we see how the electric wheelchair works, let us first know the components that make up a power wheelchair. These are:

  1. A detachable seat with an adjusting backrest and headrest. You can detach it from the wheelchair during cleaning and maintenance.  
  2. A joystick is on the right or left armrest. The joystick has a power button for turning the wheelchair on or off, a horn button, and a speed control knob for acceleration or slowing down.    
  3. Armrests are on both sides of the wheelchair on which you can rest your arms. They are adjustable and can also be flipped up and down to allow you some space to get off the wheelchair. 
  4. The electrical system and the battery are at the base underneath the wheelchair. The battery powers the wheelchair and can connect to an electric power outlet to charge it.   
  5. Levers are on the right or left side of the electrical system located at the base of the wheelchair. The lever is used for reclining the backrest to the back to increase comfort or to the front to fold it compact during transportation. The levers also lock the electrical system on the freewheel or drive position. When locked on the freewheel, the wheels of the electric are locked in position. This ensures that the wheelchair cannot move when propelled. It only moves when you lock the lever to the drive position.   
  6. An adjustable backrest and headrest at its top on where you can lean your back and head respectively to have a comfortable ride.  
  7. Footplates that flip up to allow you to use them when on the move and flip them up when not in use. 

How do you use an electric wheelchair?  

To use the wheelchair, you need to first get familiar with the features above and any other unique extras that your wheelchair may have. Once you sit on your wheelchair and are ready to use it, be sure to fasten your seatbelt before you power it on. Also, be sure to adjust the backrest, headrest, armrests, and footplates in a comfortable position. Here is how to use an electric wheelchair: 

  1. On the control panel, press the power button to turn on your wheelchair. Your control panel should also indicate the battery level and speed setting of your wheelchair as these are the basic settings of any wheelchair.   
  2. Once your wheelchair is turned on, use the joystick to navigate your path. You can also use it to increase or decrease the wheelchair speed or adjust the speeds from the speed button on the control panel.   
  3. After you are done using your electric wheelchair, turn off the power button first before you can unfasten your seatbelt to come out. 

Using the joystick 

As we have seen above, most electric wheelchairs have a joystick that you can use to control the wheelchair and direct it in different directions. Also, for safety purposes, the joystick usually has an inbuilt locking feature or the levers at the base of the wheelchair. When the lever locks to a freewheel position or when you lock the joystick, nothing cab move the wheelchair. 

Here are common ways to unlock the joystick of a power wheelchair depending on the type, brand, and model. It’s important to note that the user manual of the wheelchair will always provide the directions for unlocking the joystick on your specific wheelchair.  

  • Power on your joystick. Next press the joystick forward and hold it in that position until it produces the first beeping sound. Press the reverse button and hold it in that position until you hear another beeping sound. When it does, move the joystick back to the center position and it will produce another beeping sound to indicate that it has unlocked.  
  • In other electric wheelchairs, you power on your joystick and then long-press the power button until you hear a “beep” sound. Reverse the joystick and hold it in that position until it produces another beeping sound and then move it back to the center position. It will produce a beeping sound to indicate that your joystick has been unlocked.  

Once the joystick unlocks, you can use it to direct your power wheelchair 360 degrees and adjust its speed. Here are some tips when using your joystick: 

  • Avoid getting into heavy traffic before you are familiar with and confident about using your wheelchair. Also, when your wheelchair is moving at a high speed, avoid making sharp turns as this is bound to tip over your wheelchair.  
  • Ensure that the wheels of your wheelchair are locked before getting in and out as this prevents it from moving before you are settled and ready to propel it.  
  • Take time to understand the different beeping sounds and LED indicators produced by your wheelchair. This is usually indicated in the manual.

Slowing down an electric wheelchair

A Man and Woman Riding on Power Wheelchairs in the City

Most wheelchairs will move at a maximum speed of between 5 mph and 10 mph. When you power on your wheelchair, the speed level will usually be set at the lowest or at the last speed that your wheelchair was moving at.  

Use the speed button to turn down your speed. Alternatively, simply releasing the joystick will apply brakes to bring your wheelchair speed down to an eventual stop.

How to make an electric wheelchair go faster 

Again, when you wish to accelerate your wheelchair, you can do that by pressing the plus sign on the speed button on your wheelchair’s control panel. For most people, the joystick is handier when the wheelchair is already in motion. This is because aside from steering the wheelchair in the direction you want it to go, pushing the joystick forward accelerates your wheelchair speed.  

It is important to note that sometimes a low battery could be the reason why your wheelchair is not performing as expected. Therefore, be sure to fully charge your wheelchair battery before heading out.

Can you manually push an electric wheelchair? 

Sometimes when your battery charge runs out, you may be forced to manually push your electric wheelchair. Most wheelchairs are designed with a setting or lever that allows you to switch your wheelchair to a manual operating mode. This will let you manually push your wheelchair. To do this, ensure that your hands hold the wheel rims correctly and firmly with your thumbs on the outside, then slowly start propelling your wheelchair.

Extra safety tips when using a powered wheelchair

Here are some important safety tips to bear in mind to be safe when propelling your wheelchair.

Avoid draining your battery charge below 20% 

A good way to maintain your battery and extend its life is to always recharge it before the charge goes below 20%. In addition to using the right battery charger, also do the following to maintain your wheelchair battery in a good condition:  

  • Charge your wheelchair after every use. 
  • Charge it overnight whether you have used it or not. 
  • Drain your battery charge to a 30% level the first 10 days then charge it fully. 

Always turn off your wheelchair before getting in or out 

As a safety precaution, always turn off the power of your wheelchair before getting on or off. This ensures that the wheelchair will not move even after pressing a button by mistake.  

Have a regular maintenance schedule for your wheelchair 

Wheelchairs wear out from regular use. They not only need regular cleaning but regular maintenance to keep them in tip-top condition and extend their lives. With time, you will pick up unusual sounds or movements when using your wheelchair so you’ll know when something is not right.  

It’s not only important to clean a power wheelchair but also, to have it checked when it develops faults. 


Much goes into the decision of purchasing an electric wheelchair. Most importantly, however, is the independence and comfort that comes with using one. Electric wheelchairs are also safer and less strenuous to use. While these mobility aids are easy to maneuver, you need to get the right type, size, and model electric wheelchair for your needs. In this way, you can enjoy the full benefits of operating a power wheelchair. Seek the recommendations of your physician to narrow down your selection to only the right wheelchairs for your needs. Then it’ll be easier to make an informed final decision.

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