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Clothing for wheelchair users

Clothing for wheelchair users

If you use a wheelchair, you may find that some standard clothes are not practical or comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Most clothes are made to look or feel best when you are standing up. On this page you will find some general guidelines and ideas on what to look for when choosing clothes or making adaptations. (Disability SA, 2008).

General guidelines on choosing clothes

  • Look for trousers with a longer leg length and looser fit around the bottom and tops of thighs.
  • Tops with a looser fit across the shoulders and upper arms will be more comfortable if you self propel.
  • Clothes with slippery linings will generally be easier to put on and take off.
  • Soft, flat seams will be more comfortable and are less likely to contribute to pressure ulcers. (Disability SA, 2008)
  • Stretch fabrics are generally more comfortable to sit in and often make it easier to dress.
  • Natural fibres are often most comfortable, are breathable and are best at maintaining body temperature.
  • Tops that open at the back are often easier to put on in a seated position, if you are assisted by a carer for dressing. (DLF, 2010)

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Adapting existing clothing

It is often possible to adapt ready-made clothes from the high street so that they are more comfortable or practical to wear whilst using a wheelchair. You, a friend or family member may be able to make the alterations, or a local dressmaker or dry cleaner may be able to do the alterations for you.

Jackets

  • Inserting a zip into the centre-back seam of a jacket can make it easier to put on while you are seated. This can be done by opening the centre-back seam of the jacket and lining, and inserting the zip with the open end down.
  • Enlarging the underarm of a jacket can help make dressing quicker and easier. This can be done by opening the seams at the arm hole and sewing a gusset into the opening.
  • Shortening the back of a jacket can help prevent you from sitting on the hem, and from the jacket bunching up around your waist and hips when seated. This can be done by opening up the side seams to waist level, cutting the fabric to the required length and then hemming at the new level.
  • Opening up the side seams to about waist level can also help prevent a jacket from bunching and creasing.

Trousers

  • Lengthening the waist at the back will help make trousers more comfortable while sitting, as well as help avoid gaps between trousers and tops. Do this by unpicking the waistband, attaching an extra piece of fabric then replacing the waistband.
  • Shortening the waist at the front will also make trousers more comfortable while sitting. This is done by unpicking the waistband, removing the zip and cutting away the excess fabric, then sewing the waistband on again. Lengthening the fly opening using spare fabric will also help make dressing easier.
  • Removing excess fabric and darting trousers behind the knee can help make them more comfortable to wear if sitting for long periods of time.

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Buying ready-made adapted clothing

There is a range of clothing available from specialist suppliers that has been specifically designed to be more practical or comfortable for wheelchair users. Items that are available include:

  • Trousers with features such as a higher waist at the back and shorter waist at the front, elasticated waistbands, stretch fabric and softer seams for increased comfort while sitting. (DLF, 2010)
  • Underwear with fastening at the crotch, to help make toileting easier4
  • Jackets and waistcoats that are shorter in the body, some have a back opening to help make dressing easier. (DLF, 2010)
  • Capes or ponchos that are designed to cover both the top and bottom half of your body, to provide protection from wet or windy weather. (DLF, 2010)
  • Zipped sitting bags to keep your legs warm and protected from wet or windy weather. These are designed to be used instead of having a blanket over your legs, as blankets can get caught up in the wheels of your wheelchair. (DLF, 2010)

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Further information

  • The Independent Living Centre in Devon has a clothing advice service that is run by an occupational therapist. They have printed information and are also able help you over the phone, by email or in the centre if you make an appointment. Visit their website for contact information.
  • The toileting section on Living made easy has advice on managing clothing when using the toilet which you may find useful.
  • AskSARA is the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)'s free online self assessment tool. If you choose the clothes, shoes and dressing section, AskSARA will ask you questions related to the topic, and then offer relevant advice, product suggestions and supplier details.
Advice last checked: 17 October 2014 Next check due: 17 October 2017

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement