Winter weather wheelchair tips are not for everyone. They’re for those wheelchair users whose destiny didn’t include a nice warm corner of the world where you can get a year round tan instead of seasonal frostbite.
Regardless, you’re stuck with what was dealt you, so let’s see if we can offer up a few tips to help you stay safe and mobile during those tough winter months.
We all know that there are times when regardless of weather, you will still need to get out in your wheelchair. If the sidewalks (or streets) are still covered with a deep blanket of snow, then stay home. Wheelchairs were never designed to compete with snow plows. If the sidewalks and streets have a light amount of snow coverage then you are probably going to brave it. Here are some things you can do to help stack the odds in your favor.
Improving Wheelchair Traction
Keep a set of knobby winter tires on your wheelchair during the winter. If you use a manual wheelchair then keep an extra set of quick mount wheels with snow tires mounted on them handy. Pop them on as needed and get a bit of a rolling edge.
If you’re wishing you could get a set of studded tires on your chair, you can. Here is a do-it-yourself project that should work for most manual wheelchairs and some powered wheelchairs (depending on wheel type). As a bonus, it costs almost nothing.
Come closer. Here’s a tip that you didn’t hear from me or you may have some wheelchair manufacturer howling that you have voided your wheelchair’s warranty. Just let a little bit of air out of your tires. This will serve to increase the size of the tire’s surface contact area giving you improved traction over wet or icy surfaces. As soon as your done snow wheeling, fill the tires back up to regulation inflation.
Cold Weather & Your Wheelchair Battery
If you are a powerchair user, remember that cold weather is harder on batteries and your normal cruising range (on a full charge) may be greatly diminished. Batteries will also drain quicker with the increased load of pushing you and your wheelchair through even light snow. Top that off with the power drain caused by poor traction and your potential range really takes a hit. Make sure that your batteries are fully charged before going out, and make sure you don’t travel to far from home.
Keep It Dry
If your wheelchair controller (joystick) is not waterproof (and many are not), cover it with a jostick cover or a plastic bag. If you’re out while it’s snowing, and water from melting snow or ice finds its way into your controller, you’re going to be in a real bind.
Keep It Covered
Don’t forget to do the same for yourself. Wear warm water resistant clothes and outerwear that leaves no skin exposed. Definitely wear gloves! If you’re a manual wheelchair user you are going to be pushing metal push-rims in freezing weather. You can’t do that for long with bare skin.
Dressing in several thin layers is a good solution for wheelers who don’t like the bulky feeling and restriction caused by thick clothing . As an added benefit, layers retain heat better than a single garment and the outer layer can be shed if the weather improves.
Take extra precautions with any part of your body that has diminished or lost sensation. You may not feel the affects of cold or may feel it to late so give those areas some extra attention and good coverage. And whatever you do, don’t overstay your outdoor adventure. Get it done and get back in your warm home as soon as possible.
We all know that you shouldn’t be wheeling around in the street, but reality often leaves no choice. Darkness sets in early during winter months, snow may still be falling, there may be no sidewalks or they may not have been cleared of snow. You and your wheelchair are going to be hard to spot. Try this to improve being seen- Get your hands on a number of small battery operated lights and do a temporary mount with Velcro, wire ties, small clamps, to each side of your wheelchair. Give others a chance to see you first.
If you have large snow banks or snow piles around your neighborhood, tie a tall wheelchair safety flag to your wheelchair frame to increase your chances of being spotted. Remember that most wheelchairs place you low to the ground. It may not be easy to spot you coming out from behind a snowbank onto a street crossing.
Fully charge your smart phone and take it with you. Wheelchairs can tip, roll, and skid into places that you can’t get out of. Being able to call for help is a priceless option.
Give your wheelchair a good going over to make sure that all components are right and tight. A malfunctioning wheelchair can easily become a non-functioning wheelchair in cold weather.
If you can, buddy up. Try to find a pal or family member who needs to travel down the same path as you and go it together. There is safety in numbers and the increased hands and heads may come in handy.
Build in some extra time for your outing. Even when your’re geared up and feeling like you could conquer Mt. Everest, the going will be much slower than usual.
I saved the easiest safety precaution for last. Use a helmet! Cruising out in the world is always dangerous. Cruising in a wet, slippery, lowered visibility world is many times more dangerous. Do yourself and your loved ones a big favor- use your head for more than a garden for your hair. Get a helmet and use it in any weather.
Stay safe and warm,
United Spinal Association