How to use a wheelchair correctly

Wheelchairs are a proven solution for improving the mobility of people that struggle with standing or walking. Typically used by older members of society and people with disabilities, wheelchairs make it possible for people who might otherwise struggle with their movement to get around and experience a feeling of independence just like anyone else.

If you’ve recently bought a wheelchair, you may be interested in learning more about how it works and how to operate it. In this blog, we provide instructions on how to use different types of wheelchairs.

How to use a wheelchair safely

Using a wheelchair correctly minimises the likelihood of damage being caused to the person in the chair as well as the people around them. Fortunately, many wheelchairs are similar, making it easier to offer instructions on how to use them.

Below, we’ve provided information on how to use both manual and electric wheelchairs: 

An older person using a self-propelled wheelchair to improve mobility.

How to use a manual wheelchair

Despite the arrival of electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters, manual wheelchairs continue to be a popular option for many older people and people suffering from conditions that hinder their mobility.

Instructions for operating a manual wheelchair:

1. If the wheelchair folds away, open it up, push down the seat, place the cushion on the seat, unfold the sides of the chair and check that it looks as it should.

2. With the brakes on, gently lower yourself into the chair. Once you’re comfortable, unfold the foot rests, place your feet on them and check that the arm and backrests are fitted correctly.

3. When you’re ready to move, release the brakes, hold the rims of the wheels and firmly move the wheels forward at the same time. To move backwards, perform the same movement in the opposite direction. If you wish to turn in either direction, roll one wheel forward and the other backward.

4. If you want to stop, put on your brakes, fold away the foot rests, prepare walking aids and plan where you choose to move once you’re out of the wheelchair. Put your arms on the arm rests, lift yourself up and move yourself to the walking aids or the desired location (e.g a stationary chair or bed, for instance).

5. Fold away the wheelchair by removing the seating cushion, pulling the foot rests up, grabbing hold of the front and back of the seat and pulling upwards until the chair folds in on itself.

Other factors you should consider when it comes to operating a manual wheelchair:- On sloped pavements or roads, you will need to put an emphasis on steering in a controlled manner to avoid falling over. However, sloped surfaces and soft ground should be avoided if possible.- When entering a pavement, use dropped kerbs.- Remain extra vigilant on icy or wet surfaces.- Ensure that the brakes are on any time you’re not moving.- Look out for obstacles or obstructions when moving forward, turning or reversing.

How to self-propel a wheelchair

It may not always be possible or desirable to have someone pushing you in your wheelchair, meaning that you may be required to push yourself at times if you are physically capable. However, if you don’t have enough upper body strength or use the wrong technique, this could come with some level of difficulty.

A useful way of remembering how best to self-propel yourself in a manual wheelchair is to think of it like a clock. Start by placing your hands where 10:00 would be on the wheel, gently push forward and release once you’ve reached where 2:00 would be.

You should also make sure that your hands are positioned correctly. Cup your hands around the wheel rims but make sure that your thumbs are on the outside of the wheels. By self-propelling in this way, you can avoid your thumb from becoming stuck in the wheel or underneath the seat if you lose control of the wheelchair.

How does an electric wheelchair work?

Each electric wheelchair is different, with a broad selection of features that may vary depending on the product you choose. However, as all electric wheelchairs are operated in a similar way, it’s likely that the broad instructions below will be applicable regardless of which wheelchair you choose.

How to use an electric wheelchair

Steps for using an electric wheelchair are as follows:

1. Sit in the electric wheelchair and adjust the rests for your head, back, arms and feet until you’re comfortable.

2. If the wheelchair is powered by a key, put the key into the slot and turn it to switch on the power.

3. Press the power button, disable all of the brakes and set the speed to low while you become accustomed to it.

4. Move the stick forward, backwards, left and right to get a feel for how it moves.

5. You can gradually increase your speed as you become more at ease using it.

6. When you want to stop, release the stick.

7. Press the power button, turn the key in the opposite direction and remove it from the slot.

8. Apply the brakes and exit the wheelchair, using the arms of the chair to lift yourself up.

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