What you should know before pushing a wheelchair

Trabasack Wheelchair Lap Tray

Today my sister used a wheelchair for the first time. (We share the same inherited mitochondrial condition.) Her husband has little experience of pushing a wheelchair so I tried to give him some tips, which resulted in what I have written below. Believe it or not there is actually some skill involved in pushing a wheelchair and keeping the person in it comfortable. These are just observations from my own experience of being in a wheelchair pushed by someone else, but everyone is different. If you’re pushing a wheelchair for someone new then you should ask them if they have any preferences.

Karma Wheelchair

  1. Communicate. Ask if there’s anything you need to know first. NEVER touch or move a wheelchair without permission.
  2. Don’t overshoot checkouts and reception desks. If you are level, your passenger has gone too far past it.
  3. Don’t bump your passenger’s feet into people, objects or walls. Particularly in lifts.
  4. Don’t follow anyone too closely. (See previous point.) Your passenger is closer to them than you are, and seeing backsides that close gets tedious.
  5. Watch out for oddly sloping pavements, especially near dropped kerbs. The wheelchair WILL veer sideways into traffic if you are not careful.
  6. Look ahead for bumps. Dropped kerbs are often not dropped very much. Be prepared to walk a long way around via the road.
  7. Always approach bumps straight on. If you are not straight, stop and turn first.
  8. It can be easier to go backwards over bumps if the wheelchair has large wheels.
  9. Pay attention to the surface you travel over and take the smoother path. Cobbles can be painful or tiring for someone in a wheelchair.
  10. Don’t let the wheelchair run out of control. Consider taking slopes backwards so you can hold back the wheelchair. CHECK FIRST!
  11. If your passenger says stop, STOP immediately. (And, indeed, follow other instructions – see comments below.)
  12. Try going through heavy doors backwards so you can push the door with your body.
  13. Some wheelchairs have brakes operated by the passenger. Never assume that those brakes are on or off, always check.
  14. If someone speaks to you when they should speak to your passenger, tell them so.
  15. Be forgiving of your passenger. They have no control and that may make them grumpy. Wheelchair users: be aware that you might be shouting at your assistant more than you realise.
  16. If you’re pushing a wheelchair very far then you’ll probably want to get some gloves.

Thanks to @knitswift, @chmasu, @missnfranchised, @lisybabe.

Dear Badsey Spar, stop discriminating against wheelchairs

The front door at Spar in Badsey
The front door at Spar in Badsey

I use a power wheelchair and every time I visit Spar in Badsey I find that half of the double door is locked and I cannot fit through one side. I always have to send someone else in to find a member of staff with a key and usually have to wait several minutes outside while they locate the key – on some occasions they have not been able to find it at all. At other times I have not had anyone with me to send inside.

Today my wife went inside to find a member of staff but they were serving a long queue of customers and since I was not prepared to wait outside for five or ten minutes in temperatures of 5°C I went home without doing my shopping. This problem would be easily solved by having both doors unlocked  at opening time and by not doing so Spar may be breaking the Disability Discrimination Act.

(I have sent a complaint to Spar via their website today.)

Legs, wheels and money

My old broken power wheelchair
My old broken powerchair

My electric wheelchair broke a couple of weeks ago after going up a too-steep ramp into a train, toppling backwards and then falling forwards fairly hard. That was quite inconvenient, especially when I discovered that the motors and brakes have burnt out and it will cost about a thousand pounds to fix. Since then I have had to fall back on a manual wheelchair, pushed by my wife. I can move my own wheelchair, just about, but it is still painful and exhausting for me. Fortunately I have just got a new car, so I can drive to most places and then use the wheelchair on arrival. Unfortunately, the manual wheelchair that I was given by family doesn’t fold up enough to fit in the back of my car.

I will qualify for a wheelchair from the NHS, and so I have asked to be referred to the local Wheelchair Services for an assessment. I am slightly stuck though. Walking and standing around result in high levels of pain and fatigue for me, as well as leaving me in danger of losing my balance and falling over. Despite this, I can walk around at home most of the time with only an occasional fall. NHS rules say that I can have a manual wheelchair for use outside, but because I can walk around at home I will not qualify for a powerchair even though I can’t propel myself most of the time. In fact, I probably won’t even get a self-propelled wheelchair since moving it myself can cause some pain and fatigue too, so I will end up with an attendant wheelchair, requiring someone to push me with no option to move myself at all. (See page 16 and 17 of this document for the full rules.)

Because a referral to the wheelchair service will quite likely take a few months, (I won’t be a high priority) and because I will probably get an attendant wheelchair rather than a self-propelled one, I bought a new wheelchair yesterday – a shiny new Karma Wren 2 self propel. The chair cost me £279 from a local shop called Indy Mobility. I could have found it slightly cheaper online but the staff at Indy Mobility were very helpful and put up with me for a couple of hours while I looked at all the options. They also didn’t charge me for the work done so far on my broken powerchair.

Karma Wren 2 wheelchair
My shiny new wheelchair

I was surprised how much easier the new chair is to self-propel than both my old one (and it is old!) and my dad’s one which I borrowed when my power chair broke down. That is partly because the new chair is made from lightweight aluminium but I think also due to it not being worn out. It is light enough that I can lift it into my car myself as long as I am not too tired at the time. It fits nicely in the boot of my car, as you can see in the picture below.

My new wheelchair in the back of my car
My new wheelchair in the back of my car

Wheelchairs are one of those extra expenses that disabled people can have which Disability Living Allowance is supposed to help pay for. While chairs are available from the NHS, it is quite common for them to be inadequate or to take a long time to get, even apart from cases like mine where I won’t qualify for a power chair which would help me the most. The Motability scheme which leases cars to disabled people in return for the mobility allowance from their DLA can also lease high-end powerchairs to them but I can’t do that because I already spend my DLA on a Motability car so I have had to buy my wheelchair with a credit card at very high interest. I think there are quite a few people stuck in this situation including Kaliya (@BendyGirl) who is currently trying to raise funds for a powerchair of her own. She really needs one to get around outside – just see her “deathwalk” video if you need convincing. Kaliya could use a powerchair inside as well, except that her flat does not have enough room for one. You can donate to Kaliya’s powerchair fund by sending money with Paypal to wheelchairforkali@carolineengland.co.uk or visit her blog post about it.

Karma Traveller 2 powerchair
Karma Traveller 2 powerchair

I have a possibility of getting part of the cost of an powerchair paid for by a local charity – the same one which gave me a small grant when I went to university and gave us food money last year when our benefits were screwed up. They require me to have attempted to get one from the NHS first, and so I must wait until I have been assessed before I can do that. I am hoping to take a voucher towards the cost of a wheelchair rather than a wheelchair itself from the NHS so that I can then put that voucher together with a charity grant if I can get one and buy a powerchair. I plan on getting one that is small and light and can come apart to go in my car – my old one weighed 90kg and even healthy people struggled to lift it. Indy Mobility suggested a Karma Traveller 2 which I think costs about £1,700, although I will have to find out what else is available. For now I will just have to rely on my wife to push me.