Pushing a wheelchair can be pretty hard. Not if you’re used to it, but then there are all these different wheelchairs. And it’s not made easier by the environment, or the people in it.
I often joke that lessons or flyers should be given to those who are wheelchair users themselves and the pushers. Or maybe a wheelchair driver’s license? There are so many things I’d like to tell you, which might help you with pushing a wheelchair. You don’t have to discover the wheel again, right? I’ve decided to split this up in multiple lessons.
So, welcome class, to pushing a wheelchair 101!
Important to know is that you shouldn’t be afraid. Usually, we wheelchair users are quite tolerant to wheelchair pushers. It can be fun to hang out with a wheelchair user. Listening to the user’s tips can be quite useful and I always recommend that. Even more, because it’s awful to be so dependant and when people will suddenly move you around and you have no idea what’s happening.
[Image of a drawn wheelchair with arrows to all the different parts, stating the names]
So my first tips:
1. There’s no shame in asking. Be honest if you’re unsure how the wheelchair works (there are soooo many different types!). Ask how to equip/(un)fold it etc. Ask what the other person prefers for speed (you could get dizzy or nauseous fast) and how to take bumps etc.
2. Pretend that you are 3 metres wide and 3 metres long. You are a lot bigger. If you’re unsure if it will fit, then don’t do it. Ask the user what he/she thinks, because he/she’s already more used to the sizes. Remember that wheelchairs also have these footrests, and those are really pointy and long. If you’re in a zoo for example, watch the fence, usually someone will flat my feet against it. And listen to the user’s ques. If you stop when you are in a beautiful spot to see the animal, there’s a big chance the user won’t be able to see it.
3. Look in front of you, in particular pay attention to the ground. There could be glass, or a tile which is lying loose, or dog poo (a wheelchair user might need to use his/her hands close to the wheels and touch them. And you might use a wheelchair inside buildings too).
4. There are bumps everywhere and every bump is too big. In the beginning always take them backwards. So you go first and pull the wheelchair. That’s a lot safer. If you go forwards and lift wrong, the user might fall out. Play it safe and take them backwards. Oh and very important: straight lines. Go towards a sidewalk, bump or ramp straight. Don’t take it from a different angle, because then you can’t get up well and it will stagger or the wheelchair will collapse.
5. Never let go of the wheelchair. Especially with hills. There are always these clowns who think it’s fun to run up and then let you go down. Never do this, even when you think it’s not so steep, or it’s quiet on the road. A wheelchair always has a deviation to the left or right. It won’t go straight, but will pump into a side and the user might fall out. It’s also almost impossible as an user to stop the wheelchair when it’s going fast. So someone has to grap you, or it might go really wrong. Just don’t do it, never. It’s really dangerous and not funny.
Last but not least, try to have fun. Especially in the city, it can be extremely irritating with all the people walking into you and cutting you off. But I’m always very happy and grateful when someone wants to take me. You can have a lot of fun with a wheelchair and mistakes are ok; you can always joke about it.