Published on September 18, 2017 by Dylan Hughes
wheelchair turning radius

When purchasing or renting a wheelchair, scooter, or other mobility device, turning radius is an important consideration. Turning radius dimensions can vary depending on the device, but the tighter the radius, the easier it will be for you to maneuver in small spaces and to turn around.

What does wheelchair turning radius mean?

The turning radius – also referred to as turning space, maneuvering space, turning circle, or turning area – is how much space it takes you to execute a 180 degree turn in your wheelchair. Technically, the radius is the distance from the center of a circle to the outer edge.

How much space is required for a wheelchair to turn?

 The space needed for a smooth U-turn in a wheelchair is 78 inches (1965 mm) by 60 inches (1525 mm) minimum.

What about other mobility devices?

 Wheelchairs have a tighter turning radius than mobility scooters, while power wheelchairs have the tightest radius (as little as 20 inches), and can turn in a 40 inch space. The minimum diameter for an electric wheelchair, scooter, or reclining wheelchair user is 94 inches, while more room is always preferable. This means that every device should have at least a minimum radius of 30 inches for wheelchairs, and 47 inches for electric wheelchair, scooter, or reclining wheelchair. The United States Access Board’s required minimum dimensions for turning spaces in accessible buildings will give you an idea of average turning radius for mobility devices. 

How to make a u-turn with a mobility device

 

Note that there are a couple of different ways to make a 180-degree turn, depending on the wheelchair or mobility device. Some powerchairs can make tight circular turns, but a three-point turn is common with scooters and motorized devices with a larger turning radius. Manual wheelchair users will make a pivoting turn.

With a T-shaped turning space, a wheelchair user travels up the base of the T, turns the wheelchair into one of the arms, reverses into the other arm, and turns to move back down the base of the T. These spaces don’t require as tight a radius. For manual wheelchair users, the T-shaped turning space should be in a 60 inch square minimum space, with arms and base 36 inches wide. And for electric wheelchair, scooter, or reclining wheelchair users, the T-shaped turning space should be in a 94 inch square minimum space with arms and base minimum 40 inches wide. Again, more space is always better.

 

Where is sufficient wheelchair turning space required?

Wheelchair accessibility requires clear floor, ground space, and turning space around elements such as fixtures and controls, so that people in wheelchairs, scooters, or other mobility devices can approach, reach, and use them.

According to the US Access Board, sufficient clear floor or ground space is required at drinking fountains, toilets, sinks, appliances, beds, electrical outlets, ATMs and fare machines, and more. Knee and toe space is required for some elements such as drinking fountains, desks, and tables. Clear floor spaces can overlap where elements are close to each other. Doors can swing into the turning space, though doors that swing in the opposite direction are ideal.

Depending on the element or fixture, the clear floor or ground space should be positioned for either a forward or sideways approach with the wheelchair or other mobility device. For some elements, such as dining and work surfaces, a forward approach is required, while for others, such as beds and appliances, a side approach is preferred or required. There are times when, ideally, one should have both options.

According to the ADA standards, ample turning space is not required in every accessible room or area, but is recommended in space where there is a risk of getting trapped, such as small spaces and dead-end aisles / corridors. Ample turning space is required in the following spaces (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • toilet and bathing facilities
  • dressing, fitting, and locker rooms
  • transient lodging guest rooms
  • dwelling units (all rooms on an accessible route)
  • patient bedrooms
  • holding and housing cells
  • saunas and steam rooms
  • raised courtroom stations served by ramps or lifts with entry ramps
  • certain recreation spaces (amusement ride load / unload areas, fishing piers and platforms, play components, and shooting facilities)

What are the best mobility devices for a tight turning radius?

There are a host of factors, features, and specifications to consider when buying a mobility device, the most important of which include:

  • Weight: How much does the device weigh and is it easily transportable?
  • Weight capacity: How much weight will the device bear?
  • Terrain: On what sort of surfaces will you be using the device – Smooth? Rocky?
  • Lighting: Do you need lighting and the ability to see in the dark?
  • Accessories: What sort of accessories does the device accommodate?

When it comes to turning radius, however, you would ideally get the tightest turning radius that suits your needs. A mobility scooter, even the smallest, usually requires more room to maneuver than a power or manual wheelchair, as they are primarily designed for outdoor use. With this in mind, only compact models are suitable for use around the home or other areas where maneuverability can be a challenge (for a tighter scooter turning radius, choose a 3-wheel model if possible).

If you find that hallways, corners, or other places you need to turn don’t meet the turning radius requirements for your scooter, you may want to consider a buying a power wheelchair. Power wheelchairs typically have a significantly tighter turning radius due to their smaller, compact design. For maximum levels of mobility, comfort, and safety in tight spaces, the WHILL Model A personal electric vehicle turns easily due to a 28” turning radius. It safely navigates indoors as well as outdoors with its powerful 4WD, patented front omni-wheels, electromagnetic brakes, independent suspension, and anti-tip bars.

The bottom line

When navigating tight spaces, a wheelchair with a tight turning radius is invaluable. Each device has its pros and cons, so it’s crucial the one you choose is best for your lifestyle, medical needs, and preferences. Speak with the mobility device experts at Scootaround and let us help you find which device is best for you.