A Real Back Seat Driver – 10 Tips on Handling a Wheel Chair Safely

After 5 months in the rehabilitation hospital it was time to take Desiree, my partner, home after a disabling stroke. Over the period of rehabilitation she had become quite adept at scooting around the hospital using one arm and one leg. Now was the time to enter the real world. As her able bodied carer I needed to become proficient at handling the wheel chair. How hard could it be, I thought, after all I could handle the most recalcitrant shopping trolley. This would be a cinch!

After getting Desiree into the front seat of our car, (this took 10 minutes of maneuvering on its own) all I had to do was to fold the wheel chair and place it in the back of the car. No problems? I pushed this way and that, do you think that I could get this contraption to fold, no way. The battle had become personal; it was me against the chair. Desiree kept calling, what are you doing back there. I was not going to let a bunch of aluminium tubes, plastic and spokes get the better of me. Nothing dear, just getting the chair into the car. After a further 5 minutes of wrangling one of the nurses spotted me and came over. There is a trick to this you know, she said. With one swift upward karate chop to the seat, my nemesis yielded and folded flat, the nurse then progressed to flip the chair into the back of our car with little effort. This was the start of my wheel chair handling lessons. Over the next few months I learnt more about wheel chair driving than you would believe. Here is a list of tips and tricks for you wheel chair novices.

  1. To Fold a Wheelchair If handles are provided at each side of the seat, use these to pull upwards. Otherwise fold your chair by holding the midpoint of the seat at the front and back, pull upwards.
  2. To Unfold a Wheelchair Push down on both sides of the seat making sure you keep your fingers clear of the edges of the seat frame in case they get trapped.
  3. To Tilt a Wheelchair Back Always warn the occupant of your intention. Using the tipping lever located on the chair push down and under with your foot. At the same time pull back and down on the handgrips.
  4. To Assist a Person in a Wheelchair Up a curb Face the front of the chair to the curb, tip the chair onto its back wheels, place the castors onto the pavement and then push the wheelchair up onto the pavement.
  5. To Assist a Person in a Wheelchair Down a curb Face the curb, tip the chair on to its back wheels and lower down the curb taking care not to jolt the occupant.
  6. To Push a Wheelchair Down-Hill Travel slowly – and safely – down inclines, in order to maintain control of the wheelchair. If the gradient is very steep it may be advisable to go down backwards to prevent the person in the chair from tipping out.
  7. To Push a Wheelchair Up-Hill Keep the weight of your body forward when pushing the chair up an incline. Keep your back straight, elbows slightly bent.
  8. To assist a person in and out of a wheelchair
    1. Place the chair as close as possible to the side you are transferring to. Try to reduce the distance and angle as much as possible.
    2. Remove the leg rests and brake lever extensions.
    3. Ensure the brakes are securely on before standing up, or transferring.
    4. Remove the armrest on the side you are transferring to.
  9. To Lift a Wheelchair into a Car
    1. Remove armrests, footrests and wheels (if applicable) and place them in the car. This reduces the weight and length of the chair.
    2. Fold wheelchair and engage brakes.
    3. Place folded chair at right angles to the car and stand facing chair.
    4. Grasp fixed section of frame.
    5. Using back care principles lift chair keeping your back straight and knees bent.
    6. Using counter balance technique, lean back until the weight of the chair is balanced with your body.
    7. Pivot on one foot and step around with the other foot to face the car.
    8. Chair can be slid into the car with little effort.
    9. Protect the axles of detachable wheels and avoid damaging the wheelchair when closing the car.
    10. Use a tow bar mounted wheelchair carrier or powered boot hoist to reduce lifting.
  10. Ten Wheelchair Passenger Safety Tips

    1. Sit well back in the wheelchair.
    2. When standing up or sitting down always apply brakes.
    3. When standing up or sitting down always have footplates up.
    4. Do not stand on the footplates, as the chair will tip forward.
    5. Keep the arm rests securely in place and in the correct position.
    6. Ensure feet are secure on the footplates and will not slip off. Ensure hands, arms and fingers will not be injured or become entangled in wheel spokes.
    7. Keep the weight of the body forward when propelling the chair up an incline.
    8. Travel slowly – and safely – down inclines, in order to maintain control of the wheelchair.
    9. People with poor trunk control should wear a safety belt or harness.
    10. Keep the chair clean, and well maintained.

Experience has given me the upper hand in my relationship with the wheel chair. I secretly now know the chair treats me with respect.