July 10, 2019

Murphy Battista

DJ Lam, PIRC Resource Coordinator

While the end of June marked the start of summer, it also began silly season for wheelchair users who navigate seas of pedestrians, vehicles and other hazards.

Indeed, it’s not uncommon to see close calls between wheelchairs and sets of able-bodied shins. And wheelchair users are particularly vulnerable. Distraction and increased sidewalk traffic, for example, demonstrate the need for vigilance. With that in mind, here are some tips for surviving summer.

Mechanical tips – wheelchair maintenance is key

First, maintenance is key. A well-maintained chair is a responsive one and helps lower inevitable frustration.

Bike shops usually provide free air for tires. Being appropriately pumped up makes for easier wheeling push chairs. And manual chair users can pick up lubricant there, too. Carrying a small tool kit can be a life saver to keep simple fixes inexpensive — or to keep a chair usable during a wait for professional service.

Having fresh, fully charged batteries in power chairs is a requirement in the heat. Higher temperatures, just like very cold ones, lower battery performance and that means they affect range.

Ultimately, when something goes wrong there are also service providers that do 24/7 service, depending on the location and the specific problem. Some vendors also offer plans for regular service. Take note, though, that most insurance companies and the Ministry do not cover such proactive maintenance.

Environmental – stay alert!

Summer also means it’s construction season. Wheelchair and scooter users should especially mind the road and sidewalks for debris. Warm and sunny weather means there’s more stuff that can cause flat tires, for example, because Mother Nature isn’t sweeping away junk with rain. Service calls to replace tire tubes are costly in time and money for power chair users.

Using transit is also an adventure. Tourists may not be familiar with the ramps and wheelchair spaces. Full trains and buses can also delay trips for wheelchair users. It is therefore important to leave earlier to allow necessary extra time for trips.

Just as people are penalized for distracted driving, it’s also important to wheel without distraction.

Headphones with overly loud music will dull the ability to hear oncoming cars, trucks, bikes and even joggers. In urban areas as well, scores of electric vehicles are almost impossible to hear without any other environmental sounds. While it’s easiest to see what’s oncoming, having every sense alert is best. Keeping one earphone out is one way to maintain complete awareness.

Wheelchair users are considered pedestrians under B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act. As such it’s important to stress some final safety points.

Staying on sidewalks is crucial. And when none exist, it is safer to wheel as far to the side of a road and against the flow of traffic. The logic is that drivers and wheelchair users will best be able to see each other and avoid accidents.

And, while sunglasses are important summer equipment, be aware that they can remove the ability to make eye contact with others.

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