Assisting a Wheelchair User – The Basics

By George Cooley

Supporting individuals who use wheelchairs with daily tasks or during emergencies necessitates acquiring essential skills and adhering to protocols to ensure their comfort, dignity, and safety. Wheelchair users possess varying degrees of mobility and independence, often requiring assistance with navigating obstacles, lifting heavy objects, or traversing challenging terrain. Whether you are aiding a wheelchair user whom you know personally or a stranger in a public setting, it is crucial to follow basic guidelines that empower and safeguard them. This article offers an overview of fundamental principles for effectively interacting with and assisting a wheelchair user with mobility limitations.

Getting Permission and Clarification

Always remember to politely inquire if a wheelchair user requires or desires assistance before offering help. Avoid making assumptions, even if the situation appears to call for assistance. Clearly communicate the type of aid you can provide, such as opening doors, carrying packages, or pushing their wheelchair.

Only touch or move a person’s wheelchair after receiving explicit confirmation, as it is an extension of their personal space. If the person indicates any pain or discomfort during assistance, immediately cease and verify how to proceed or if alternative assistance is needed. Respecting the autonomy of wheelchair users and minimizing the risk of injury is paramount.

Assistance With Mobility

When selecting a wheelchair or scooter, consulting occupational therapists helps determine the optimal design and features to improve mobility, posture, and independence based on one’s medical needs, physical abilities, and environmental factors. You can help with finding a local wheelchair and mobility scooter store to try new devices that fit the client’s needs.

Assisting a wheelchair user in navigating daily obstacles presents common challenges. Adjust your pace to match theirs and offer assistance by widening doors or providing ramps for safe passage over high thresholds. Check if they can manage steps independently or require lifting assistance. Point out any curbs, uneven pavement, steep inclines, or soft terrain that may hinder smooth movement.

When pushing a manual wheelchair, do so gradually and avoid sudden backward tilting. Clearly communicate your intended movements and directions while also considering their preferences. Maintain a solid grip on the handles and distribute weight evenly to prevent accidental veering or tipping. Inform users in advance about potential obstacles, allowing them to anticipate and guide your assistance accordingly.

Transfers and Lifts

Wheelchair assistance

When assisting wheelchair users with transfers, prioritize clear communication and proper procedures. Before attempting self-transfers, ensure the presence of sturdy handgrips, swing bars, and gradual inclines. For full transfers, always request detailed instructions on how to safely lift, support, and pivot their frame. Semi-independent transfers can be facilitated with slide sheets, transfer belts, and boards, but unassisted full lifts should only be performed by trained professionals.

Familiarize yourself with the mechanical lift equipment in homes, vehicles, and public facilities. When operating Hoyer lifts, allow users to secure the straps themselves to ensure proper positioning and safety. During every transfer or re-positioning, follow the user’s lead in terms of speed and body angles to prevent strains or falls.

Emergency Protocols

During emergencies involving individuals using wheelchairs, respond promptly and provide competent care. If there is an injury or health issue, remain calm and ask how you can assist while contacting emergency services.

Keep the person warm, but avoid moving them unless you are trained to do so or if there are immediate threats such as fire or traffic. Secure mobility devices and loose wheels in place using scarves, belts, or bags to minimize the risk of further injury from potential collisions.

Ask any witnesses to clear tight spaces to ensure efficient access for EMS crews. Stay present and assist authorities in understanding any relevant medical conditions or allergies that may impact the response. Inquire if contacts should be notified and maintain ongoing communication and reassurance until skilled medical providers arrive.

Respecting Independence

Despite having good intentions to assist, individuals who are not wheelchair users may unintentionally compromise the autonomy of wheelchair users by excessively intervening. It is important to refrain from pushing or steering wheelchairs without clear guidance from the user.

Avoid taking over tasks solely because of the presence of mobility aids; instead, allow wheelchair users to contribute and direct the process. Recognize that everyday tasks may require alternative techniques or significant endurance, which able-bodied helpers often underestimate.

Politely offer assistance options such as holding doors or carrying items, but respect and accept refusals without offense if users prefer to manage on their own. Instead of showing pity, demonstrate attentive patience and respect for disabled individuals’ challenges while upholding their dignity.

Last Soul Hiker Tip

As the visibility of disabilities increases, it is important to fully include wheelchair users in community life with the support of well-informed allies. Learning proper protocols for assisting wheelchair users promotes independence and understanding between different groups. In addition to physical accessibility, a compassionate society should be open to accommodating all bodies and abilities at their own pace. Showing patience and respect during everyday tasks and emergencies not only helps wheelchair users navigate their daily lives but also affirms their self-sufficiency and equal status. Just as we make room for wheelchairs on buses, creating space for flexible functioning in our shared world promotes fairness and inclusivity.

About the author
George Cooley