Winter Wheelin’: Practical Tips for Wheelchair Use in Wintry Weather

Well, Jack Frost was at it again and made his mark across the Philadelphia region this week.  While some may revel in the beauty of a fresh coat of white powder, it’s probably no surprise that Jack Frost is generally no friend to folks using wheelchairs.

Wheelchair users from around the world have come up with some pretty creative ideas to battle the white stuff, ranging from chairs equipped with military grade flamethrowers, to snowplow and ski-like attachments.  Ingenuity is certainly not lacking in these concepts, but practicality?  Well, that maybe somewhat limited.

In an effort to come up with some more sensible solutions for fighting the frost, we asked some of our Magee friends for advice.  Here’s what they had to say:

Test your treads.  You don’t need a set of Michelin Ice Monster 5000s, but before winter comes, it’s a good idea to make sure your tires are not worn and dull.  Checking your wheels routinely is sound advice, because even in just wet weather, bald tires can cause chairs to slip and slide.  However, the snow and ice make matters worse and a face full of snow due to a fall is just simply not fun.

Be wary of ramps and inclines.  Just because there’s a sign stating an entrance or path is accessible doesn’t mean the incline is negotiable for all chairs, and it definitely means very little if the surface is covered in snow and ice.  Even a light dusting can render ramps of approved grades treacherous, so proceed with caution and get help if you are unsure.

Get a grip.  Your wheels will get wet, so having a good pair of gloves that will keep your hands dry is essential.  Make sure they have leather or other protective non-skid material inside the palm area for a solid grip.  And word to the wise… don’t try to remove them with your teeth.  The salt from the streets is not very tasty.  Blah.

Plan extra time.  Just like in the rain, normal daily activities take even longer in the snow, so plan ahead.  If transferring in to the car, make sure the brakes are locked, but also that the chair is in a safe place and will not slide.  Assume it’s just going to take longer to get to and from anywhere.  Extra layers, extra steps, extra time.

Be a good guest.  If you are visiting someone’s house, warn them ahead of time that your tires could leave tracks.  They might want to put something protective on the floor so you don’t blemish their carpets.  Keep a small towel with you to wipe your wheels off when going indoors, and do this before taking your gloves off!

Layer up.  For those with spinal cord injuries, keeping the body warm during the winter months can be difficult.  And once frozen, it can take a LONG time to thaw out.  Dress in several dry layers to combat the cold, and cover legs in a low heat blanket if you can for a short period of time upon returning indoors (just be careful to check skin every few minutes and monitor to avoid burns or overheating).

Use good judgment. And if you generally don’t have good judgment, listen to someone who does.  Now is not the time to throw caution to the wind and become adventurous.  No one likes to be cooped up, but just as there are times when even 4 wheel drive monster trucks should not be out on the road, there will be times when the conditions outside are just too much to safely handle.  On those days, just stay inside.

We’d love to add other practical advice to our list!  If you have suggestions that have worked well for you please let us know so we can pass along.  In the meantime, stay warm!

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