A guide to adapting to using a wheelchair

The associated challenges with any disability can be difficult to adjust to, and a person’s entire way of life can be altered by it. People can become disabled for a range of reasons, including worsening medical conditions, physical trauma or by a sudden illness. However, providing guidance and assurance for those affected is essential as Independent Living explore the implications of adapting to using a wheelchair.

How to prepare the home

Often, simple considerations for the surroundings of a disabled person can be left at the bottom of the pile of stresses but ensuring that the person can be facilitated is a good point to cover. For example, most standard doors measure 28-32 inches, and are not friendly to wheelchair dimensions, so you might need to account for this. A typical wheelchair will need a doorway of at least 36 inches, and space can be gained by switching to specially designed door hinges. Storage is also important, and a folding wheelchair has become a popular specification for users.

Steps and stairs can provide obvious hinderances in allowing a wheelchair to move freely, so ramps should be installed to provide a steady alternative surface. Even things such as carpets can cause difficulties, as they can obstruct the wheels from moving properly. An alternative to consider is laminate, a cost-effective smooth surface which suits wheelchair friendly homes. Perhaps adding facilities such as a walk-in shower or stairlift could also be a good step in the adjustment process, as it is important to make the user feel welcome and independent in their space. Guidelines established in the Access to and Use of Buildings in the 2010 Building Regulations stated that fittings such as light switches and door bells should comply with a height restriction to accommodate those with reduced reach. In accordance with this, modern new builds tend to be constructed to meet these standards.

Navigating outdoor spaces

Many local councils have installed dropped curbs and flat pavements to allow easier mobility for disabled people, and when it comes to taking your wheelchair out for the first time, it can be a good idea to practice using these accessible areas of path. Over time, wheelchair users familairise themselves with chair-friendly places, whether it’s certain footpaths to high street stores and supermarkets. One major issue for many disabled people is height, as wheelchairs often don’t account for the layout of most modern stores and are left to ask for assistance. While everyone wants to feel independent, it could be useful to take a friend or relative along on your first shopping trip or walk, just to get accustomed with the environment from a new perspective.

Being comfortable

Some wheelchair users rely on their chair more than others, and for those that do, being comfortable is essential. An inflatable cushion for the chair can be a great start, as can travelling with a backpack attached to keep items close to the person. Anti-tip bars can be helpful for preventing any falls, as the maintain control to the rear of the chair and prevent the front from tipping when making any adjustments. Many disabled people express how patience must be learnt, as you will slowly adapt to new approaches to even the smallest of tasks; cooking, changing a bed and washing will all require a revised approach, but it’s important to have a trial and error approach. Some prior planning can become handy before taking a trip to the shops or even filling your car with petrol, where you can usually seek assistance from a cashier.

Allow yourself and those around you some time when it comes to getting used to using a wheelchair, just like any other change in life, it will require patience and practice at first. There are many home adaptations as well as outdoor considerations which can all assist in the process.