Negotiating Camber And Obstructions In A Wheelchair – My Latest Wheelchair Skills Session

by Stuart Wheeler

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It’s been a busy few months for me, with a lot of wheelchair skills sessions.

People have travelled from all over the world, and I have travelled some distance to them, so that they can learn vital skills about how to use a wheelchair safely and confidently.

For some people, manoeuvring their wheelchair around the home can feel like a real challenge.

Building up the confidence to venture outside, even within the local area, can feel daunting. Being in a public space with worries about people’s perceptions of disability, can create significant anxiety. Going out into an area which can seem unfriendly and scary can stop people from fulfilling their potential.

My latest client just wanted to have the confidence to pick his son up from school.

I recently ran an ‘Out and About’ session in Coventry, for a client who just wanted to have the confidence to pick his son up from school. This session started off in the client’s home, teaching him skills to operate his chair confidently, making sure he had a true understanding of how to control the chair and manoeuvre it over and around obstacles. After the training indoors, once I was confident the client could use his chair safely, we ventured outside.

Camber and pot holes are everywhere.

Whether you’re a wheelchair user, a fit able-bodied person or someone who uses walking sticks or crutches, camber and pot holes can get in the way. My client, Ian, was concerned that the angled path to pick his son up from school – which was full of what seemed like moon craters - could potentially throw him out of his chair. He took me on the route, which ran alongside a busy road – one that I certainly wouldn’t want to fall into.

Camber on roads and paths is to aid water drainage, but this path we were struggling along felt like it would turn into Niagara Falls if it rained. There was so much camber that our wheelchairs were being directed into the road. Some assertive skills were needed to prevent ending up in the road.

A broken glass bottle is an obstruction that needs to be negotiated.

After overcoming this first challenge, we ventured through a park, fortunate enough to have a tarmac path leading between the grass play areas. It was all very pleasant until we reached a broken glass bottle in the middle of the path, leaving only two options - go through the glass and risk a puncture, or divert around it on the grass. Choosing the second option, suddenly another skill was put into action. Pushing on grass any longer than the centre court at Wimbledon is a challenge. Being able to lift the front casters up and keeping them elevated helps propel the chair easier. When your front casters are on the ground, it’s like pushing through treacle.

Cars blocking the path is a common problem

We carried on towards the school, only to come to a car blocking our route. Anyone who uses a wheelchair - or pushes a pram - will no doubt encounter this problem frequently. There are several options to take here. Firstly, don’t get angry - there is limited parking everywhere now that every household has 2 cars. Secondly, you could try asking the owner of the car to move it if they are in view. Otherwise, look for alternative routes. In our case, this involved using the road and looking for a dropped kerb. Ian had mastered kerb descent but avoided using this skill until now – this time, however, there was no other option. I demonstrated my descent and explained how I got safely down into the road using both wheelchair skills and road safety. Ian remembered the technique and was able to descend with confidence. We propelled around the car, heading back to reach the safety of the path.

My client was excited to achieve his goal

With only a short distance to the school gate, Ian was excited to be in a position to be able to meet his son after class. I was pleased to be able to help Ian accomplish this. There were trials and struggles on this journey but lots of tricks and good wheelchair skills helped us to get to the final destination for Ian. I assured him that it will get easier, the more he takes this journey over time.

About the author

Hi, my name is Stuart, I've lived with a Spinal Cord Injury for over 20 years and use a wheelchair. I have a family and value independence. I teach manual wheelchair skills - www.freedomwheelchairskills.co.uk.

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