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A Few Tips for Wheelchair Users

  Scald Protector
You definitely need to consider having a scald protector installed in your shower if your sensory perception isn't intact. You can get one at your local hardware store or purchase one online. If you rent, approach your landlord about making this an accommodation to your apartment.

Click here to get info on a scald protector or to order

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Phone Developments
You may want to program your frequently-used numbers into your portable phone so you can call your family, friends, doctor, druggist, etc., with just one touch of a button. Telecommunications companies are working to improve the communication process for those with disabilities - even though voice activated phones still don't work well. Read about the latest developments online at the Accesslife site.

Click to read about Telecommunication Advancements

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Love That Shower
One of the pleasures of life is a good hot shower. You might want to look around at your options for the right equipment. Many people use a hand-held shower nozzle. If you do, purchase a slide bar accessory that you can mount it to. This allows for easy adjustment to any height. Make sure that the nozzle has a clamp attached to allow you to make both the height and the direction stable and to point the water stream squarely where you want it.

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Avoiding Spills
If you're catheterized and use a urine drainage bag at night, get in the habit of setting the bag inside of a bucket. This will come in handy if your attendant forgets to close the clamp on the bag. Using the bucket will also help to avoid spills.

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Attach Your Cell Phone To Your Wheelchair
Having a cell phone is almost a necessity for people who have mobility related disabilities. If you don't have one, you should consider the very affordable rates and "safety plans" that cell phone companies offer. These plans offer very low monthly rates and higher per-minute charges, and are tailored for people who would rarely use their cell phone but need it in case of an emergency. The important aspect of this tip, however, is to remember to always have it with you, not in the next room on the desk. If a wire on your power chair fizzles out while you're in the kitchen, and your cell phone is in the bedroom, it isn't serving its purpose. Figure out a way to mount it to your chair and you'll ensure that you always have it when you need it.

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A Place For Everything
If your disability is mobility related, keeping things consistently within reach can be a problem, particularly if you live with other people. Non-disabled people move things around without thinking about how putting that juice on the top shelf in the refrigerator, or throwing that remote control in the center of the bed will affect your ability to reach it. The more people you live with, the better you already know that one simple move of something that belongs to you can create major inconveniences for you when nobody is around to help you. My policy in my house: If it's mine, keep your hands off, or put it back exactly where you found it... exactly. If it's ours, please put it back where we can all reach it. Make sure that everything you need to get to will always be within reach.

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Be Prepared When Nature Calls
It is a great idea to keep a urinal in your vehicle - or even in a bag on your wheelchair - at all times. Sometimes, accessible bathrooms are hard to find and it seems like they're never around when you need them. Having a urinal close by is a great safety measure.

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Dining Etiquette
I love a good steak, but the physical process of cutting my own meat takes away from the experience. A good idea is to have the waiter serve the meal normally first so you can enjoy the plate presentation. And then ask him to take it to the kitchen for cutting. Be specific about how small you would like the pieces cut. Don't be afraid to ask the waiter or waitress to help you with your napkin, sugar your tea, or anything you need to enjoy your dining experience. It should not be the responsibility of the person you're dining with to help you with your meal unless that is what YOU want. The restaurant is there to serve you and accommodate your needs.

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Handy Coat Hanger
For many of us, picking things up off the ground sometimes seems impossible. For some, the solution is a service dog. My solution has been my three young children! But when the kids aren't around, a coat hanger is great for picking up dropped items. The hanger can be folded to accommodate the object that was dropped, and for me, it's a rare occasion when an object can't be manipulated and recovered.

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Portable Ramp
In a perfect world, every newly constructed home would have at least one level entrance so that we could get our wheelchairs inside. Many advocates, such as Eleanor Smith of "Concrete Change" in Atlanta, are working hard to make that the law. But until then, don't let a couple of steps stop you from enjoying an active social life. Get a portable wheelchair ramp. They're lightweight, they fold up into small briefcase sized packages, and they are affordable. Look up Portable Wheelchair Ramp on one of the Internet search engines to find out your options.

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Fillin' Station Blues
You pull up to the gas station only to discover there is no full service. You blow your horn. People look at you like you're crazy. Finally you roll your window down and ask a complete stranger to go inside and tell the clerk that you're in a wheelchair and need to fill your tank. The process is a part of life for those of us who roll and drive. One solution: get all your gas at one place and create a secret horn code that employees of the gas station can be trained to listen for. Another solution: call from your cell phone. Or call from your home as you're leaving so that the station will be expecting you to pull up.

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Weigh Independence Against Energy
Keep in mind that being independent means making all the decisions that impact your life. It doesn't mean doing everything yourself. If you are in charge of your environment, you are independent. Oftentimes we encounter situations in which we have the physical ability to do something, but doing so would expend a great deal of energy. In these situations, I tend to value my energy more than the sense of satisfaction that I get from doing a task all by myself. Get help with the small stuff and reserve your energy for the things that are more important.

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Take Names, Numbers, Addresses, Witnesses
The Americans with Disabilities Act exists to protect our civil rights. Unfortunately, many businesses and public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels and retailers ignore the law. If your civil rights are being violated, pull out a pen and a notepad, take down the name of the employee, the date and time of day, and the names of witnesses. Voice the situation from the business perspective and then double-check the spelling of the employee's name. For example, say "this video store does not have a ramp so that people in wheelchairs can get in, and you won't bring me the video box covers of the new releases so I can decide which movie to rent?" Conclude your documentation by saying " And your name is... " Usually this documentation gets you a supervisor who deals with the situation properly. If it doesn't get you what's right, at least you have some information for an attorney or a mediator.

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Free Directory Assistance
If you're chair bound, you probably qualify for some special telephone company services. Call your local telephone company today and tell them you use a wheelchair. You will qualify for free directory assistance and free call connection, and you may be entitled to a special rate on your local phone service based on your income. All local phone companies have different programs, but in my area for instance, if you are on Social Security, you qualify for a significantly reduced monthly phone service fee.

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Home Depot or Lowes
I avoid trips to the "wheelchair shop" as much as possible. I've found that pretty much anything that goes wrong with my chair can be repaired by purchasing the parts at Home Depot or Lowes and getting someone to repair it for you. Going to a hardware store generally saves you downtime and money. And the folks at these retail outlets, who are all skilled craftsmen, will often help you with the repairs for free. Non-disabled people feel great in doing their good deed of the day.

** However, if your repair involves a critical function of your chair that would put you in a dangerous situation if it malfunctioned, seek the services of a professional durable medical equipment (DME) provider.

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Find Engineering People
Recently, while I was visiting an amusement park, a major cord on my power chair became frayed, rendering my chair motionless. Instead of calling it a day, we called the engineering department at the theme park. They performed fairly extensive surgery on my chair and it ran like new, saving my insurance company hundreds of dollars, and sparing me the hassle of enduring days without independent mobility. If you're out at a public accommodation, and your chair breaks down, find the engineering people. They'll likely be able to fix the problem and feel proud that they were able to help you.

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Disability Magazines
A great way to immerse yourself in disability culture is to subscribe to one of the national disability magazines such as "New Mobility", "We" or "Accent On Living". Much of the writing in these monthly magazines comes from people with disabilities who offer insight and common observations about a variety of issues.

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Tupperware Dishes
Many people who get around the house on wheels also have a different way of eating. If you're a quadriplegic or if you have a disability that limits your manual dexterity, you might want to consider eating some of your meals out of a Tupperware storage container. The vertical sides of these dishes allow you to scoop up food with a fork against the container instead of spilling it on the table.

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Seek Out Other Chair Users
I 've had muscular dystrophy all my life, and started using a wheelchair at the age of 13. At that point in my life, I wanted nothing to do with other people in chairs. Even into young adulthood, I wanted to establish a fair distance between other wheelchair users and myself, since I felt they weren't like me. For people who suddenly become wheelchair riders as a result of an accident or an illness at whatever age, there is a tendency to feel the need to differentiate yourself from "those people" in wheelchairs.

You need to recognize that this feeling is universal and to force yourself out of a false sense of security. There is a great deal of knowledge, insight, understanding, and camaraderie that comes from associating with other rollers in all aspects of human interaction: as co-workers, friends, or lovers. No one outside of a chair will be able to better understand you and your perspective on the world.

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Rail Travel From Major Cities Only
A great way to save money on travel is to take Amtrak instead of flying. Be prepared for an isolated experience, however, since you will be stuck in one place for the duration of the trip. You'll have your meals served to you at your seat or in your private cabin, not in the meal car like everyone else. On the plus side, you'll find Amtrak less expensive than air travel, and you won't have to check your chair in with your baggage, thereby avoiding all of those hassles. But remember this word of caution: Make sure you depart and arrive from a major city, or make sure that when you make your reservations, you find out whether the stops have indoor terminals. Many train stops have no shelter from the weather nor do they offer any kind of security for your protection.

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Secret Signal For Friends
Safety and security is important for everyone, and particularly critical for people who use wheelchairs. Create a special rhythm or series of doorbell rings and give the 'code' only to people who are welcome visitors. This is especially critical if you have a remote controlled front door that you access from bed (or another part of your house) to let people in. Having a secret ring is a great idea for anyone in a wheelchair. Most peepholes drilled in doors are out of our reach and the holes that are lowered are often too low for us to get any identifying information about visitors other than their gender. Give your welcome visitors the secret password code.

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Expect Air Travel Delays
Whenever you fly, it's always helpful to budget an extra hour both before your flight and at your destination because only rarely will your flight and debarkation be a smooth process. (If your chair is damaged, you'll have to file a claim.) Count on 20 minutes for the airport personnel to get you off the plane. By the time your chair is brought to you and you get properly in the saddle, your checked baggage will be locked in the baggage claim offices. Be prepared for those delays and budget them in as a part of the traveling process. Doing so will save you a lot of aggravation and ensure that the timing of your ground transportation is set realistically.

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Straw Power
As wheelchair users, we often need to realize that the etiquette rules that apply to the rest of society do not apply to us. Sometimes it takes years to finally figure this out. For example, in restaurants, when I order a beer, my accommodation had been to ask that it be served in a lightweight cup instead of a heavy beer mug. But after spending time with other wheelchair users, I realized that there is nothing wrong with sipping suds from a straw. That goes for wine, soda, water or whatever you drink. Get a pack of straws and keep them in the bag on your chair at all times.

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Personal Care On The Road
If you use a wheelchair, need personal assistant services, and will be traveling soon, you might want to consider hiring a temporary home health care agency to help you instead of incurring the expense of taking an attendant with you on the road. Services such as Kelly Temporary usually have a two-hour daily minimum at about $30 per hour. This is often much less expensive than the added costs of airfare, meals, ground transportation, and hotel accommodations for your attendant. This might appeal to you if you need help only a few hours in the morning or in the evening.


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