Monday, July 31, 2006

How to Push a Wheelchair

I am not the first to observe that, much like driving, the way in which you push a wheelchair says something about who you are. I have been pushed by people who treat it (and me) like a tank, by people too scared to move me, by people who see it as empowering and who suddenly become maniacs....

This is what Wizard and I have figured out over the years. Feel free to add, comment, ....

First Steps
  • Ask. Better yet, wait until I ask. Don't just come up behind me and start pushing.
  • Understand that you are about to touch a part of my body; imagine someone is pushing you from the middle of your back.
  • Know that pushing doesn't mean you are in control. You may be pushing, but we are going where I want to go, in a manner that I want to go, at the pace I want to go.
Got all that? Ok. We can proceed to the next stage.

  • Aim for a smooth ride. No sudden stops, starts, turns.
  • Place both hands on the handles, lean into the chair, and push forwards. Do not lean down or back (this tips me backwards). Pay particular attention to this when going uphill.
  • Keep an eye on the ground; avoid glass, dogshit, chewing gum etc.
  • Look for uneven paving; one small raised slab can pitch me forwards and out of my chair.
  • Keep an eye on the other walkies. We are big, and we go first. Don't just sit there.
  • Hold onto the chair at the kerb cut. You may have stopped, but chair follows the laws of physics.
  • No stopping to answer on your phone, look in the window, check out that hottie etc., because this invariably involves yanking or jerking me.
  • Steer away from cobblestones, brick paving, other funky stuff; the vibration is too painful.
  • Avoid recently laid tarmac (or melting tarmac in the heat).
  • Puddles are always deeper than you know, and the water is bad for my clothes. Keep me away from cars that will splash me as they drive by.
  • Ice is BAD; snow is slippy.
  • To go downhill, steer as if you were in a ski slalom event. That way, you will have more control and the chair is less likely to pull you off in an uncontrolled run.
  • NEVER, EVER let go without telling me first AND without hearing back from me about whether it's OK.
  • Bumps, over time, are cumulatively painful. Avoid them by going more slowly or steering by them.
  • No kerb cuts. To go down, turn me around and pull the rear wheels first. Use your weight as a counterpoint. Do NOT let me tip over backwards.
If you are STRONG and IF I trust you, we might do the following:
  • No kerb cuts: going down. Slowly, pull the chair into a wheelie, push forwards, use your weight to HOLD the chair all the way down. Do not let the chair use its own momentum to land, even if you are holding on: the bounce is DANGEROUS and painful.

  • No kerb cuts. Beginner pusher, going up. Pull the chair into a wheelie and balance it with your weight. Push the front wheels onto the pavement. Push the rear wheels until they hit the kerb, then roll them up the kerb. I will help you by moving my weight forwards, if I am feeling nice and if you have been good.
  • No kerb cuts. Strong pusher, going up. Pull the chair into a wheelie, land the front wheels, then lift the rear wheels -- keep pushing forwards, mind you don't tip me out.
  • No kerb cuts. Advanced pusher, going up. Pull the chair into a wheelie, use some speed, and let physics do the rest.
Some of the above can be used for the infernal 2/3 steps into a restaurant.
  • Doors that pull towards you. You don't want to bang me as you open the door (no, you don't). Ensuring that I am out of the way, pull the door open, brace it if needs be with your back. Push me in from the side. DO NOT use me to hold the door open.
  • Doors that push open. DO NOT use me to open the door. Step ahead, open the door, brace it with your body if necessary and pull me in behind you using the frame of the chair. It is too complicated for you to hold the door and push from behind.
Social Stuff
  • When we are in a group of people, push me in the middle of the group. Yes, it is more work, but I don't want to be out front not being able to be part of the conversation.
  • Don't speak for me. EVER.
  • When speaking to me, come around so that I can see you and drop your level slightly. I can't keep twisting myself upwards to see you. Alternatively, you can lean forwards and put your head next to mine -- I only like really close friends/lovers to do this.
  • I am not a car. You can't just position me where you'd like to leave me and go. Think about what you would like to look at; is the ground level? Am I safe from passers-by?
  • Check that the brakes are on.
  • Check that I am OK with where I am.
Ok. Got it all? Happy pushing.


  1. Anonymous12:23 PM

    Execellent! I was sitting in the back of my church about a year ago and my friend was in the pew next to me. A guy comes up behind me, grabs my chair lifts it up in the back and moves me about 4 feet before I knew what was going on. The entire time I was trying not to fall on my face. Needless to say it is the last time he will EVER touch me like that again. I totally freaked out in the rear of the chruch as he was telling my friend he needed to make room for folding chairs. Acting as though I was nothing but furniture.

    I have never said so many profane words in a row, ever! I backed him into a corner of the church while verbally berating him and all his ansestors.

    He got the message, and so did everone in the santuary that morning. You know, I am treated with more respect now than ever in the past.

  2. Ha! For a moment there (until you got to the NEVER EVERs) I was nostalgic for the days of my manual chair. Excellent list!

    I'll add one: I and my wheelchair are not "in the way" simply because we are there. Sometimes in social situations or when manueveringor sitting in public, non-wheeled people will have to go around. I just am and deserve my space like everyone else.

  3. Anonymous1:55 PM

    clicked on this from blues site and how right you are that regular people do not take into consideration what you have written. thank you emensly for enlightening me the the ways of the people whom use wheelchairs!

  4. zenico10:09 AM

    LOVE this w/c pushing primer! Should be an illustrated booklet given to family at hospitals and rehab places and even w/c dealers. Web too of course! Mostly pix not words, be international/alexic etc. Need a quick publishing job? Have any at talent or know someone with such? Go girl! —zenico

  5. jesus, thanks for this. i'm not totally clueless about general and some specific dis issues, but today i'm going to a museum with my lover and for the first time she's going to use a wheelchair. i just got on google and typed 'how to push a wheelchair' and here you are! i think it'll be a whole diff experience for me as other friends i have in chairs push independently or use electric. this is JUST what i needed today--esp since this is a new experience for her, too. grateful you went to this effort, jen

  6. Anonymous1:47 PM

    Thank you so much for this. I am going to take my Mum out tomorrow, a first for both of us. Hers in a chair and mine pushing it, she has not been out socially for months and I don't want to let her down by making her feel nervous or awkard. This is really useful stuff. Thanks again

  7. I'm a 45 year old and just lost the use of my legs from a freak accident and now I am in a chair (two days old now). My views are to other people as I convey them are this chair is an extension of my legs and the wheels are like a pair of shoes, different shoes for different purposes. And that you wouldn't want me to step on your toes and possibly ruin the surface of your shoes and damage your foot right? Then treat my and my chair like you would your own legs and shoes. Thanks I will be book marking your page for future refference! ~ Mahalo, Wally Daniel, Panama City, Florida

  8. Anonymous1:09 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Oh, that's icky! Thanks anonymous!


  10. hellonwheels12:50 AM

    Thank you - this is marvellous and beyond helpful....

  11. Anonymous12:13 AM

    Thank you for this article. I will be showing a certain person this before we go to an amusement park next year because he likes to fool around with my chair and this is the third time in three years he's done this and it had me fuming and speechless this time. I want him to stop it, but he does not understand that it is not funny to us wheelchair users. That it simply freaks us out no matter what and that we deserve more respect than this. This article will open his eyes on why I want him to handle my wheelchair appropriately and with respect when pushing me and that when he treats/handles my chair with disrespect he is also treating me with disrespect. There will be no arguments on why he should be handling me and my wheelchair properly and with respect, period, end of discussion, end of story.

    Thank you so much, Wheelchair Dancer (Love the username BTW).

  12. My father used a wheelchair occasionally the last 12 years of his life. I got to be the pusher some of this time. What a great guide! It was almost weird reading it in print.

    I would add one thing about navigating doors: do not overestimate the kindness of strangers. You will see someone (a walkie, I guess! never heard that before. Privilege.) coming towards the door quickly, and you will think they are heading to help you manage the door and the wheelchair, and instead they will try and squeeze around you to get through the door.

    This was even worse when my dad was trying to get around with his four pronged cane. People would bowl him over in doorways.

  13. Oh yes, all that! :D

    A very good friend of mine is a natural at wheelchair pushing and he'd never done it before he met me! If he wasn't gay, his technique would have made me fall in love with him a little bit. Haha.

    Conversely I have a friend who's NEVER allowed to push me because I have a tendency to end up inspecting the pavement at close quarters whenever she's in charge - and she used to be a carer!!

    It's all academic now though as I like to push myself for the exercise unless it's extremely rough ground. I do at least three miles in one go once a week and the weight is coming off nicely :).

  14. P.S. I am going to re-blog this if you don't mind :)

  15. I'd be thrilled! Hope all is well with you!


  16. The first time I pulled a manual wheelchair, I was so bad at it! So here are two important details I've learned:

    1. When you use the subway, underground, metro, or however it is called in your country, IMMEDIATELY apply the brakes after you enter, BEFORE it starts to move. The wheelchair user might get really scared if they feel their chair could roll around without them having control of it. Don't start thinking about where to place the wheelchair, just stay in front of the door. You don't have much time to step in and off.

    2. If you see another wheelchair user coming from the opposite direction, driving directly towards you with their big, threatening electric wheelchair, and smiling as if they were happy about the upcoming wheelchair crash, don't start any quick manoeuvres to avoid them, just SLOW DOWN! They have seen you! It's most probably a friend of the wheelchair user. Give them the time to say hello to each other.

    And something very important I figured out myself from the first second, but perhaps for some it is not self-evident:
    When people you meet (on the street, in the bar, etc.) tell or ask YOU (as a carer or friend) questions about the wheelchair user ("How old is he/she?", "What is his/her name?", "He/She is so beautiful!", "Where does he/she come from?"), for God's sake DON'T REPLY! Tell those JERKS that they should address their questions directly to the wheelchair user. Explain them that the wheelchair didn't steal the person's tongue.

  17. teriw7:45 PM

    Thank you for this article. Ina Mar people who ask the care giver about the wheelchair user are not jerks, most often they are unsure of the wheelchair persons condition. They don't assume ability. When they address me about the guy I work for, I just look at my friend and say do you want to tell them the answer to their questions? They usually get embarassed and they refer all their questions to him. We have actually made wonderful friends out of uncomfortable situations.Education is the key.

  18. Thank you for this. I am very good friends with a wheelchair user and am often the one pushing, although she does self propel whenever she can, and she'll always help me out even when I'm pushing.

    I'd really love some advice though, about how to go down VERY steep hills. The local theme park to us (Alton Towers) is VERY hilly, and going up is a struggle, going down is scary as I'm only 5ft 2 and don't weigh as much as say a 6ft tall man. How do you go down a hill without feeling like you're just along for the ride?

    Another one that annoys me. If my friend is out of her chair, say at the pool or in the cinema, DO NOT MOVE HER CHAIR WITHOUT ASKING!

    Her chair has problems with the brakes and if you move that thing in the wrong way, a brake can fall off, leaving us in a dangerous situation. If you must move the chair, ask her first a) where is best to move it to and b) how to move it correctly. I try and do all moving to be honest, it's less worrying that way!

  19. Anonymous2:40 AM

    I pushed someone in a wheelchair for the first time last week. The person was as demanding as you sound and I was doing my absolute best. Apparently not good enough. And to top it off, as I went down that slope thing from the kerb onto the road, I fell down and was trying to make sure the wheelchair was balanced the whole time. When people called out to me if I was alright, the one being pushed called out to them "yes I am fine". Hmmmphh! A bit of gratitude goes a long long way!

  20. Anonymous5:16 AM

    MomTFH: Re: not overestimating the helpfulness of people,I remember when I was using crutches, and I'd lever a heavy door open so I could get myself through it, and I would have young, athletic [white] males BARGING through the door in front of me! No matter how many times it happened, I was always astonished at the total self-centeredness of the people who did it. Apparently the girl on crutches was SUPPOSED to hold the door for the Young Gods, and be grateful for the opportunity!

  21. Anonymous9:45 PM

    Just been pushing an old friend around outside. Not sure if there were things to be aware of. This is really helpful. Had trouble with doors that wouldn't stay open. Wanted to be able to talk to her as we went along without speaking to the back of her head.

  22. As a user of a big mammoth wheelchair - there are so many things here that resonate with me! (Including a lot in the comments too!)

    I get anew lighweight wheelchair soon and am looking forward to the ease of curb hopping/wheelies etc but will miss the workout my old one gave me. I always have people presume I need help on steep hills cause it takes so much effort but what they don't realise is that I'm doing it intentionally to increse strength and build muscle tone in my arms/shoulder/back.

    The not talking to the wheelchair user thing gets really depressing though. Especially as I don't have a carer and usually anyone whoo's around me at the time has no idea about my disability or my age. Also when people try 'helping' me through doors, pathways, shops, buses etc. I always say no yet they always insist in helping. I can get really aggresive (especially when I'm in pain or having to go a certain speed or way to avoid dizziness or sickness) but they always make me feel guilty because of course it's my fault that I don't want help. rather than it being their fault that they can't just acccept I don't need it.