Power Mobility for Individuals Who Are Bariatric

Canadian Clinical Blog by Sheilagh Sherman, BA, BHScOT, MHM, OT Reg. (Ont.) - Sunrise Medical

In 2015, I wrote a 3-part Clinical Corner series on seating and mobility considerations for individuals who are bariatric. Here are links to the articles:

This month, let’s revisit this general topic with a focus on considerations for power wheelchairs for these individuals.

For a general review on power mobility, refer to these articles:

There are many factors when selecting a power wheelchair for an individual who is bariatric. The obvious considerations are seat size and weight capacity. The range available in seat width and depth dimensions must accommodate the individual’s size. Different models of power wheelchairs have different weight capacities. The weight capacity of the wheelchair must be sufficient for the individual. When in doubt about the weight capacity of the wheelchair, check the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure the product is right for an individual.


Photographs are copyright Sunrise Medical, Inc.

The overall size and weight of the bariatric power wheelchair may be another consideration. The width of the bariatric wheelchair can be wider than a wheelchair that is designed for a lower weight capacity. The width of the wheelchair can impact accessibility in the environment so it is something that must be considered. The weight of the wheelchair itself may have to be considered if the combined weight of the individual and the power wheelchair approach any weight limits of electric lifting devices, such as for buildings or vehicles.

Power seating and positioning functions, such as tilt, recline, and elevating leg supports, are designed specifically to accommodate a higher weight capacity on a bariatric wheelchair. For example, a power wheelchair with a weight capacity of 550 pounds has power seating and positioning functions that also meet that weight capacity. The caveat to this is power seat elevation, which has a maximum weight capacity of 400 pounds.

There are other factors that should be considered when selecting a power wheelchair for an individual who is bariatric. A bariatric power wheelchair uses motors specifically designed for the heavier weight capacity. This means that the gear ratio is different than on an electric wheelchair with a lower weight capacity to provide more torque when required as a result of the heavier load on the motors. Recall that torque is needed, for example, when initiating momentum or overcoming obstacles. Motors that are designed for bariatric use tend to have lower maximum speeds than motors designed for lower weight capacities; however, the maximum speed should be compared between different models of bariatric power wheelchairs as maximum speed can differ between models of power wheelchairs.

Electronics and battery size should also be carefully chosen when ordering a power wheelchair for an individual who is bariatric. There are choices in electronics that can be made when configuring a power wheelchair. The greater the amperage, the stronger the electric current available for providing the power and torque required for the heavier weight on the wheelchair. The battery size affects the capacity of stored electrical energy. A set of batteries with a larger capacity means that the individual will be able to drive their power wheelchair over greater distances on a single charge.


There are many factors when selecting a power wheelchair for an individual who is bariatric. The considerations include the size available, weight capacity, finished width and weight, weight capacity of power seating functions, motors and associated maximum speed, electronics and batteries.

As always, please provide your comments, questions, and suggestions regarding Clinical Corner. Please email me at Sheilagh.Sherman@sunmed.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Sheilagh Sherman BA, BHScOT, MHM, OT Reg. (Ont.) - Clinical Education Manager, Canada

Sheilagh Sherman, BA, BHScOT, MHM, OT Reg. (Ont.)

Sheilagh Sherman joined Sunrise Medical Canada in 2010 as a Clinical Educator. Prior to joining Sunrise, Sheilagh gained extensive clinical experience working in a variety of settings, including neurological rehabilitation, complex continuing care, and community rehabilitation. As the Clinical Education Manager, Sheilagh is a clinical resource for therapists across Canada involved in seating and mobility. She leads workshops, seminars, and webinars on the clinical aspects of seating and mobility. In addition, Sheilagh has presented at national and international conferences on seating and mobility.

Sheilagh also has an educational background that makes her well suited to the role of Clinical Education Manager. Sheilagh earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Toronto in 1988, which enables her to understand healthcare policy and policy changes. Sheilagh graduated with a Bachelor of Health Sciences (Occupational Therapy) degree from McMaster University in 1994. In 2012, Sheilagh earned a Certificate in Adult Education/Staff Training from Seneca College. She applies adult learning principles to the workshops she leads. Finally, she also has a Master of Health Management (MHM) degree from McMaster University after graduating in 2015. Courses that Sheilagh completed during the MHM degree, such as Knowledge Translation, Evaluating Sources of Evidence, and Quality & Safety in Healthcare, assist Sheilagh in using an evidence-based approach in her work.

In her free time, Sheilagh enjoys running, in addition to practicing yoga.

Date: 2017-09-25

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