New Wheelchair User? So many new things to learn. Here are some tips to help make that adjustment time easier.
If you are a new wheelchair user, the process of adjusting can be a long one. In some ways, your life will be improved exponentially by the change; the move into a wheelchair opens a new world to you, and provides mobility that you may have otherwise struggled to achieve.
On the other hand, there is usually a long process of adjustment to life on two wheels, which can sometimes feel overwhelming.
This is a contributed post.
In an effort to ensure your transition to life in a wheelchair is as beneficial as possible, below, we have put together a list of tips that can make the process as simple and comfortable as possible.
But before we can talk mechanics, a few words about the emotion of having to be in a wheelchair.
As someone who is a wheelchair user, let me tell you that emotionally we go through many stages.
The first is having to admit we need to use the chair. And then there is the process of accepting being in the chair. then using the chair and being comfortable with this option. Next is the stage where there is no longer any self consciousness of being seen in the chair. And the gratefulness that we have some semblance of independence again.
I often tease that I have gotten my Ph.D in bumper cars! I am excellent at bumping into things! But actually the more we get used to using them, especially motorized chairs, the easier we find ways to enjoy them.
I used to be a bit of a fast driver, don’t tell anyone please! So I love using the fastest speed and whizzing through the streets. In fact people have told me they expect me to get a ticket! But it makes me feel like I am driving a convertible!
#1 – Research your home adaptation options as a new wheelchair user!
There are a variety of options for managing the process of adapting your home to be as wheelchair-friendly as possible, though the process itself can be complex. It’s relatively easy to find out more about quality ramps to your front door and options for managing the internal stairs in a property, but there are a number of other small adaptations that you may want to consider also.
For example, it’s worth taking the time to research options such as door widening, and if you have space, it may be worth installing a DIY kitchen island that it is suitable for you to use while sitting in your chair. This video is a handy guide to this basic process…
… for which you can then adapt the measurements so they are at the correct height for you. It’s worth considering these options even if you don’t intend to permanently use your chair indoors; there’s a certain comfort in knowing you have the option if necessary.
#2 – Don’t be afraid to use your voice if someone tries to move your chair
If your new wheelchair is self-propelled, it is likely only a matter of time before another person – often a stranger – attempts to move your wheelchair on your behalf.
Over recent years, there has been a concerted effort to ensure non-disabled people know not to do this, but the message has been rather slow to filter through.
For most wheelchair users, having their chair moved without their agreement is an extremely unpleasant experience. Unfortunately, many new users feel they have to just accept this behavior, assuming that the person in question is just being polite and trying to help.
However, even if that person is just trying to help, the simple fact is that they’re not helping: they are violating your space and acting in a manner that makes you feel uncomfortable.
A stranger moving your wheelchair without permission is akin to someone manhandling a person when they are standing upright; no one would accept that, and you don’t need to accept your wheelchair being moved without your permission either.
So don’t be afraid to speak up and loudly say: “I’m good, thank you!” if someone attempts to move your chair without permission.
It’s your chair; it’s an extension of your body; and your feelings of safety and comfort should always be the first priority – so you are well within your rights to speak up.
#3 – Examine your eating and exercise as a New Wheelchair User
One aspect of wheelchair life that many people overlook is the way your caloric needs change. Compared to someone who is non-disabled, wheelchair users require fewer calories – the exact number will depend on your personal metabolism and whether you are using an electric or self-propelled chair.
It is worth speaking to a doctor for further guidance regarding your new caloric needs and, if necessary, adapting your diet to account for this.
It is also beneficial to learn more about options for exercising while in your wheelchair.
Exercise is a key component of maintaining good physical and mental health. And there are plenty of workouts that have been adapted to be suitable for wheelchair users – for example, this helpful, seated workout:
Of course, caution is important when engaging with fitness exercises in a wheelchair.
Always ensure you have the brakes engaged, and if you feel pain during the workout, press pause, and only resume when you are able to do so without discomfort. Working out is important, but preserving your health is more important still, so be cautious not to push too far.
ONE OF THE OTHER THINGS THAT WHEEL CHAIR USERS ARE NOT HAPPY ABOUT IS THE WEIGHT GAIN.
AS WE ARE NOT EXERCISING AS MUCH.
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#4 – Consider options for ensuring your wheelchair is comfortable
Wheelchairs are designed for comfort and long periods of use, but users may still find that they experience issues when seated. The most common issue is pressure sores, which can lead to severe pain, discomfort, and even infection.
To prevent these, you may want to consider specially-designed cushions that allow air to circulate as freely as possible.
However, even with a cushion, pressure sores may still be an issue. It’s important to learn to identify the early signs of these sores, and to seek medical advice as soon as possible if you experience early symptoms.
Pressure sores can be successfully managed, but they tend to require early detection in order to prevent complications.
It is also worth keeping in mind the fact that pressure sores are not just an issue for your seat; they can develop anywhere that has a restricted airflow while using your chair – for example, the sides of your thighs.
Given the importance of early identification in the management of these sores, it’s worth scheduling a regular check-up of any areas of your body that are pressed against the chair during use.
In conclusion for New Wheelchair Users
When you have a disability, wheelchairs can offer an incredible opportunity to explore the world while ensuring you are comfortable and safe.
You will likely find that you cope well with the adjustment, embracing the opportunities your wheelchair now offers you, and the tips above may have to further accelerate this process – leaving you free to focus on all the benefits your wheelchair is able to offer you.