Hesperian Health Guides

Wheelchair Transfers

Persons who use wheelchairs become much more independent if they can learn to transfer (get in and out of their wheelchairs) by themselves, or with limited help. For those who need some help, it is important to find ways to transfer that make it easiest both for the disabled person and the helper.


mother lifting child from wheelchair to place him on the bed

Oh, my aching back!

WARNING! One disability can lead to another!

Too often, as disabled children get bigger and heavier, mothers and fathers hurt their own backs.

Different persons will discover their own ‘best way’ to transfer with or without help, depending on their own combination of strengths and weaknesses.

Here we give some suggestions of ways to transfer that many people have found to work well.

Notice that it is often easier to transfer sideways out of a chair, and also back into it. To transfer sideways, however, a wheelchair without armrests, or with at least one removable armrest, is needed. Therefore, for many disabled children, make an effort to get or make wheelchairs without armrests or with removable armrests. Unfortunately, most wheelchairs in many countries have fixed, often very high, armrests. We therefore will give examples of transfers both with and without armrests.

A good way to transfer the child who needs help is like this.

Put the child’s feet on the floor and lean her forward against your body. Have her hold on as best she can.

Lift her like this and swing her onto the bed.
adult lifting child from wheelchair by gripping her pants
To lift him, grip his pants or make a canvas or leather sling.
a leather sling

Ideas for wheelchair design, adaptation, and use are in Chapter 64, Chapter 65, and Chapter 66.

Transfer from cot or bed to wheelchair without armrests

CAUTION! Make sure brakes are ‘on’ and footrests are ‘up’ out of the way.

To transfer from the wheelchair to the cot, follow the same steps in reverse.

child on bed in sitting position cchild reaching under his knees chld on bed with feet on ground close to wheelchair
1. Push yourself to a sitting position. 2. Reach under knees one at a time. 3. Move legs so that feet are on the floor.
4. Make sure brakes are locked. Then push up on arms while learning forward with head facing down. Weight should be over knees. child lifting himself of the bed child's body is in the wheelchair
5. Move body into wheelchair.

Transfer from cot or bed to wheelchair with armrests

Woman pushing herself from bed, one hand on wheelchair. Woman pushing herself from bed, half standing, other hand on wheelchair. Woman starting to sit in wheelchair, one hand still on bed.
1. Position your wheelchair so that you can swing body past armrests. 2. Place one hand on bed and one on the far armrest. Push yourself up while leaning forward with head down, weight over knees. 3. Swing body into wheelchair.

Transfer forward from wheelchair to cot or bed
(often works well for children)

Child in wheelchair pushing forward onto bed. child with one hand on cushion of wheelchair and one hand on bed child sitting on bed
1. Lift feet onto bed and wheel the chair forward against bed. Put on brakes. Then bend forward and lift butt forward on chair. 2. With one hand one the cushion and one on the bed, lift the body sideways onto the bed. 3. Repeated lifts and lifting of legs may be needed.

Transfer with sliding board — without help

For getting into and out of bed, a car, etc.
Board with rounded ends.
about 23 cm. (10 inches)
round ends
about 65 cm. (2 feet)

Woman sitting in bed holding sliding board attached to wheelchair. Woman in bed supporting effort to stand with sliding board between wheelchair and bed.
1. Place board under hip by leaning to opposite side or by pulling up leg. 2. Lean forward, with your head and weight over knees.
Woman half sitting on sliding board between wheelchair and bed. Woman putting sliding board vertically on wheelchair.
3. Push yourself along the board. 4. When you are in the chair, remove the board and put it where you can easily get it.

Transfer with sliding board—with help

Woman putting sliding board between wheelchair and bed for other person. Woman holding person in wheelchair by pants, person in wheelchair with arms around woman's neck.
1. Lift leg and put board under hip. 2. Have person put arms around neck (if possible) while you put your hands under his butt, or grab his pants.
Woman grasping man by pants, whose arms are around her neck, while moving him from wheelchair to bed. Woman helping to lie person in bed, wheelchair next to bed.
3. Slide the person along board to bed. 4. Lift legs onto bed.

Transfer from floor to wheelchair—with help of a low seat

Woman sitting on floor between short stool and wheelchair. Woman lifting herself from floor onto stool, supporting herself between stool and wheelchair.
1. Sit with legs straight. Pull seat to your side opposite the wheelchair (a person’s knee can also be used). 2. With hands on each chair, push up, with your head forward over knees.
Woman sitting on stool next to wheelchair. Woman lifting herself from stool on to wheelchair.
3. Swing onto the seat. 4. Now, with your head forward over your knees, swing body onto the wheelchair.

Transfer from wheelchair to floor—and back again—without help of a stool

1 2 3
Boy in wheelchair taking cushion out from under him. Boy in wheelchair putting cushion on floor while pushing himself forward on chair. Boy with hands at edge of wheelchair, lowering himself onto cushion.
4 5 6
Boy with hands on edge of wheelchair, lowering himself onto cushion on floor. Boy with hands on edge of wheelchair, sitting on cushion on the floor. Boy with hands on seat of wheelchair, lifting himself up from cushion on the floor.
7 8 9
Boy with hands on front of wheelchair seat, lifting himself into wheelchair from cushion on the floor. Boy sitting in wheelchair with cushion folded on the side. Boy in wheelchair lifting himself onto cushion.
DVC Ch43 Page 398-1.jpg DVC Ch43 Page 398-2.jpg DVC Ch43 Page 398-3.jpg
This woman, who has severe spasticity, transfers from wheelchair to bed using tin cans, ropes, and a wood frame over her bed. (Photo: John Fago, PROJIMO.)

This page was updated:27 May 2020