People who use wheelchairs for mobility and independence have become a familiar part of day-to-day life in every venue. While big strides have been made in the welcoming of people with disabilities and people who use wheelchairs in most settings, wheelchair users still face a number of difficulties navigating today's world. In this article, we list the top blank challenges wheelchair users face every day and suggest helpful solutions to these challenges. Read on to learn more.
- 1Dirty hands: Using a wheelchair gets your hands dirty. There is no getting around it, if you use a manual wheelchair the constant use of your hands as the wheels roll over the ground can definitely give you some challenges when it comes to clean hands. This is why it's always a good idea to keep a packet of wet wipes within easy reach at all times. Tuck them between your leg and the arm of your chair, or keep them in a handy pouch for use as needed.
- 2Injured hands: In addition to dirty hands, people who use manual wheelchairs often develop blisters and/or bruises and cuts on their hands. Constant rolling of the wheels can create blisters and calluses on the palms of your hands. Attempting to navigate through narrow doors can result in bruises, scrapes and cuts. Investing in a good pair of wheelchair use gloves, cycling gloves or chore gloves can help with this.
- 3The impatience of others: People who use wheelchairs are often subjected to rude behavior from fellow motorists and fellow inhabitants of the sidewalks, shops and other venues. When you are subjected to this kind of rudeness you can only do your best to go about your business quickly. Remember that rude, impatient behavior is really the problem of the person exhibiting.
- 4Unusable wheelchair ramps: Very often, businesses and other venues may believe that they are wheelchair accessible when actually their ramps are not usable by people with wheelchairs. Ramps may be hard to get to, too steep or too rickety to be used. The best way to avoid encountering one of these ramps is to call ahead and ask pointed questions regarding the exact condition of the ramp. If you can do a reconnaissance mission in advance to have a look at the ramp before you absolutely need it, this is the most useful.
- 5Narrow doorways: Many older buildings have narrow doorways that you simply cannot get through in your wheelchair. When this is the case, you should clearly and calmly let the person in charge of the building know about the problem and make it clear that you will be voting with your presence, or lack thereof. Most businesses can easily apply for and get funding and/or tax incentives to make their buildings truly accessible. If they want your business, they will make these accessibility changes.
- 6You become invisible: Of course, we only mean this figuratively; however, it is a common experience for people who use wheelchairs. Many able-bodied people seem to think that if you are using a wheelchair, you must also be mentally deficient and/or unable to hear or speak. For this reason, they will often talk over you, around you or to the person standing next to you (even if it‘s a total stranger!) When this happens, speak up in a calm, commanding tone of voice. Let people know that if they have questions for you, they must speak to you.
- 7People talking over you: This is very similar to becoming invisible; however, it is a physical phenomenon. Sometimes you may find yourself in a group at a party or other gathering in which everyone is standing around talking over your head literally. When this happens, again speak up calmly and clearly and let people know that you would like for them to sit down so that you can join the conversation.
- 8Competing for the elevator: Sometimes when you're trying to get on an elevator, people will be polite and kind and stand aside to facilitate your entrance. Other times, people will be rude and will rush to get ahead of you. Again, being assertive can help. Speak up and let people know that you need them to stand aside and let you get situated.
- 9Non-disabled people hogging parking spaces intended for people with disabilities: Although, in the United States, there are usually ample spaces provided for disabled parking, sometimes people who do not need the spaces will defiantly parking them. When this happens, you can always call the police to come and ticket those vehicles. The fine for parking in a disabled parking space without a disabled parking placard can be as high as $500.
- 10Bumpy roads and paths: Although many major cities make positive efforts to create accessible sidewalks and streets, sometimes bumpy roads and paths are unavoidable. Likewise, in major cities, such as San Francisco, you cannot avoid big hills and slants. Just as with the potential for inaccessible ramps, it's a good idea to do a little reconnaissance, call ahead, use Google Street View and otherwise determine exactly what the condition of the place you will be visiting is. If it seems that you will need extra help navigating rough, uneven, steep surfaces, be sure to arrange this in advance.
- 11Public transit: For the most part, buses, trains and other public transit in the United States are supposed to be wheelchair accessible; however, there are often unexpected challenges. For example, wheelchair lifts may not work, bus drivers may not know that they need to keep wheelchair spaces open, unruly passengers may present challenges. When you encounter these kinds of problems, don't just blow it off. Call the local transit agency and let them know about the problems you are facing. They are required to take care of these problems and make sure that public transportation is accessible for everyone.
- 12Muscle cramps and pressure sores: Anyone who must stay in any position for extended periods of time is sure to have problems with muscle cramps and possibly pressure sores. Talk with your doctor/physical therapist about these problems and set up a regimen of regular range of motion exercises to help prevent muscle cramps. Be sure to take care of daily hygiene to keep your skin clean and less likely to break down in the event of pressure sores. If you need an attendant to help reposition you in your chair, take steps to make arrangements for this. You can talk with your local independent living center or other disability services to find help making these arrangements.
- 13Danger when crossing roads: Because wheelchairs are lower than pedestrians, it can be rather dangerous to cross roads. You may be out of the line of vision of motorists. For this reason, it's a good idea to attach a pole with a brightly colored flag to the back of your chair that rises to the height of the average pedestrian or even slightly above. Doing this will help ensure that you are seen in traffic.
Special Wheelchair Travel Problems
Traveling can be a major challenge for people using wheelchairs. Here are six of the most common problems encountered travelers using wheelchairs.
- 1Unpredictable accessibility: While there are standardized rules and regulations surrounding accessibility in the United States and other developed countries, if you travel to an undeveloped country you may encounter genuinely insurmountable challenges. As with traveling to new destinations in the United States, you should always call ahead and take as many steps as you possibly can to determine exactly what the conditions are in your proposed destination.
- 2Language challenges: Just as with any other traveler, you may face challenges when you go to a country where people speak a language other than your own. This may be compounded if you have communication challenges yourself. As with any other traveler, it's a good idea to learn and memorize some key phrases that will help you in the event of emergency. If you are deaf or have some other communication challenge, you may wish to create a small communication board with these phrases printed so that you can simply point to them in the event of emergency.
- 3Medical supplies: If you need to bring quite a few medical supplies with you, you will face added expense in terms of baggage. Be sure to plan for this in advance, and also be sure to pack as many medical supplies as you will need because you may not be able to get the items you need at your destination.
- 4Boarding airplanes: When you fly with a wheelchair, you must be prepared to be parted from your chair during the flight. Arrive at the airport early so that you can transfer into the chair that the staff will use to get you on board and into your seat. Know that your wheelchair will be packaged up and put into the baggage compartment.
- 5Wheelchair damage: You may wish to bring an extra emergency chair just in case your main wheelchair is damaged during the flight. Some wheelchair users have arrived at their destination only to find that their wheelchair has been destroyed. If you can bring your own lightweight transport chair, it will double chances that you will be able to get around when you get to your destination. Otherwise, you may have to make do with whatever the airport provides you, and that may not be workable at all.
- 6Local attitudes: You never know what you're going to encounter in your foreign destination. In some places, people with disabilities are welcomed and accommodated very nicely. In other places they are shunned. Do your homework before you go so that you will know what to expect and will be able to take any steps necessary to deal with the attitude you will encounter. In some cases, you may decide that you wish to simply change your destination.