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What Are Wheelchair Restraints?

Athlete racing in a wheelchair with wheelchair restraints.
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  • Written By: Crystal K. Wilford
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2014
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Wheelchair restraints are systems of straps or tracks that secure the occupant of a wheelchair — and the device itself — in place for vehicular travel. A person who uses a wheelchair requires special safety measures when traveling in a vehicle. The wheelchair occupant could be transferred to the vehicle seat, but wheelchair restraints offer a simpler solution. The wheelchair can be anchored directly to the floor of the vehicle, removing the need to move the occupant out of the wheelchair. The restraints prevent the wheelchair from rolling when the vehicle is in motion, and they hold the occupant safely in place.

Systems of wheelchair restraints vary as much as the brands or types of wheelchairs in use. Many restraints are adaptable for use with manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs or scooters. Tie-down or webbing systems make use of adjustable straps, which attach the wheelchair to rings or special tracks bolted to the floor. A few wheelchair restraints are similar to seats and fold up neatly so that the wheelchair can be attached to the solid back-brace as well as to the floor.

The majority of wheelchair restraints are bolted to the floor of the vehicle. The restraints used to secure the occupant can be as simple as a harness attaching directly to the wheelchair or an over-the-shoulder seat belt bolted to the floor and ceiling of the vehicle. To prevent safety problems, one should conduct routine inspections on restraint systems and wheelchairs to ensure that all components function properly.

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Wheelchair restraints are typically found only in handicapped-accessible vehicles such as vans, buses, airplanes and other commercial vehicles or larger-capacity models. Many types of vans can be customized by installing wheelchair restraint systems, even if they were not factory-designed for accessibility. Installing wheelchair restraints can be done privately or by a professional. Vehicles can also be specially built with wheelchair restraints included as well as other accessibility features for people who have special needs.

Special systems can also allow wheelchair occupants to drive. These systems, known as docking systems, secure to the floor and attach to the underside of the wheelchair. The docking system can include parts that reduce the complication of maneuvering the wheelchair precisely into place. An automatic stop is provided by a stabilizing bar reaching up from the floor, which minimizes the wheelchair's motion after it is secured.

Only some models of wheelchairs are compatible with these types of wheelchair restraints. A variety of websites provide information about wheelchair restraint equipment and accessories. Many of these sites also offer live customer support to answer inquiries about purchasing systems or accessories and other questions.

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