Operating your wheelchair outside is much more difficult than doing it inside. There are more potential obstructions and you are unable to fully control your environment. Remember that safety should always come first when you operate your wheelchair outside because you never know when disaster might strike. Watching out for potential dangers should be foremost in your mind, especially when you first start getting used to your wheelchair. Take someone with you the first few times and make sure that you stay within a “safety zone”. This will ensure that you can acclimate yourself to the wheelchair before you attempt to leave familiar areas.
Use Sidewalks with Curb Cuts
Unfortunately, you will find that not all sidewalks have curb cuts designed for bicycles and wheelchairs. Since you will invariably need to cross the street, use only sidewalks with curb cuts or with intermittent driveways. Never try to “drop” down a curb unassisted because you could accidentally send yourself forward with the momentum, which would be a dangerous accident to have in the street. Likewise, if you are in a car, always park near curb cuts so that you can safely maneuver yourself onto the sidewalk and out of oncoming traffic.
Watch for Divots, Cracks and Debris
Another dangerous aspect of operating your wheelchair outside is that sidewalks and driveways are not always smooth. Most wheelchairs can easily navigate over small cracks and divots in the concrete, but large debris (such as branches) will probably present a problem. Rather than trying to coast over such obstructions, have someone move them out of the way or maneuver your wheelchair so that you can pick them up. If you’re approaching a large crack that you don’t think your wheelchair can handle, you might have to turn around and take another route.
Be Careful of Your Hands
If you’re using a standard, manual wheelchair outside, you should know that your arms are likely to get tired, particularly if you’ll be traveling a long distance. To keep your hands from becoming blistered, where thick gloves to protect your palms and fingers and make sure that the tips of your fingers can’t get caught in the wheel spokes. Take a break whenever your arms start to get sore and stretch them while you wait. If you find that you can’t continue on or go home, wait long enough so that you can finish your trek safely. Carry a cell phone just in case you have to call someone to pick you up.
Avoid Traveling at Night
Whenever possible, operate your wheelchair outside during the day. Not only is it more difficult to see your path at night, but you are also exponentially more vulnerable. There are plenty of people who have no problem taking advantage of a wheelchair-ridden person, and you don’t want to get mugged or assaulted when you’re alone. Carry pepper spray in your lap if you must go out at night and make sure that you travel well-lit sidewalks so that you can see any potential danger.
Travel at an Angle
If you come to an area that has a steep incline, try traveling up the hill at an angle. This will decrease the amount of strength needed to negotiate the incline and will prevent you from rolling backwards if you lose momentum. If traveling at an angle isn’t possible, you can try backing up the incline to avoid catching your foot pedals on the concrete. Remember that if you don’t have the strength to negotiate hills, you should probably travel with a partner.