Category Archives: Quadriplegic driving

8 Tips for Navigating Crowds in a Wheelchair

3897254007_4f94b02d4dAh yes the beloved, you may have even heard of it, Minnesota State Fair. It’s one of the biggest state fairs in the country. I went this past Saturday; the day it hit an attendance record of 250,000. That’s a whole lot of people, and it included hundreds of wheelchair-users.

I have been navigating crowds from a wheelchair for over 20 years now, but this crowd on Saturday was one of the worst ones I’ve ever encountered. Good thing my driving skills are awesome when inundated with a sea of never-ending butts and pork-chop fumes.

If you plan on tackling any kind of crowd in a wheelchair, check out my tips below. There are only a few things you absolutely need to know, and I got you covered.

8. No alcohol

Before you do anything, lay off the booze if at all possible. Getting through a giant crowd is no small feat. You need to be sober to get through cleanly (patience is huge too). There’s really nothing worse than a drunk person in a wheelchair driving willy-nilly in a crowd anyways. You’ll hit someone’s toes, feet or even worse, not to mention giving all wheelchair-users a bad rep.

7. Stay on the perimeter

If at all possible, keep your wheelchair on the edges of the crowd when trying to get through it. If you get right in the middle of the crowd when you’re using a wheelchair, it’s easy to get stuck, severely delaying you much more than you intended. Simply always stay on the edges, and you’ll be good to go in an emergency.

6. Slow it down…a lot

This tip is mainly for powerchair-users, but turning down your speed is a big deal when navigating through crowds. Our powerchairs can go a lot faster and be jumpier than we realize, making them more dangerous in crowds. So turn down that dial and enjoy the ride.

5. Never assume you’re always seen

A fateful mistake is assuming the people directly around you are all fully aware of you. Chances are, only 50% of the people in the crowd will notice you’re next to them. This is basically the same advice you first get when learning how to drive a car, and it really helps. Always be on the lookout for someone stepping backwards onto you too, and falling on your lap.

4. Politeness helps in a huge way

Minding your manners can make all the difference in a crowd when you use a wheelchair.  A simple “Excuse me” or “So sorry” can make a crowd part.

3. Know when to quit (and get help)

If the crowd gets to be too much, for example if you’d been stuck in one place for a bit, it’s always a good idea to have your phone on you so you can call for help. There have been instances where wheelchair-users get trampled in crowds. Always have your phone on you, and know your limits.

2. Look for gaps

A practical tip for navigating through crowds is looking for gaps among the crowd. People with strollers are the best, as they tend to stretch out the gaps, creating a path as they walk through it. If there are no strollers around, look for people on bicycles. Any kind of wider gap is your ticket to freedom.

1. Master the lower extremity “tap”

Above all, the best thing you can do to get through a crowd in a wheelchair is mastering the ‘lower extremity tap,” which is a quick and easy way to let someone in front of you know that they need to get out of your way. You don’t have to shove them of course. A gentle tap is usually all that’s required. When you do, 10-1 they’ll look down, see you and quickly get out of your way.

Whatever you do however, promise you will never let a crowd stop you from doing what you love. Crowds, in spite of it all, can be totally worth it, especially if live music and food-on-a-stick is involved.

How do you get through crowds in a wheelchair?

Photo courtesy of Flickr CC

What I Learned from Not Being Able to Drive for Two Months

In early August, I experienced my first major joint injury since becoming paralyzed, which I’ve blogged about previously. It was my shoulder, it’s been a long healing process and to top it all off, it put the kibosh on me being able to drive my van.

Reverting back to my old 25 year old self, of not being able to drive and relying on others to take me where I needed to, was a rude wakeup call. I had completely forgotten how frustrating the lifestyle of constantly looking for a ride, a driver for my vehicle or scheduling a cab can be. I think I might have put it out of my memory because I hated it so much (memories of being entirely dependent are never a pleasant).

Luckily, my caregivers were competent enough to drive my van and help me run my errands the past couple months – groceries, the bank, therapy appointments, the mall – everything mundane that needed to be done, they helped me get there.  It was an odd feeling reverting back in function though Is this what it would feel like if could magically walk for a day, and then had to go back to using a wheelchair?

It’s so easy to forget the tough times. Who wants to remember bad things? Those two months of not being able to drive were a huge life lesson; the lesson of being grateful for what you have in whatever moment you’re currently in.  You just never know when things will take a turn for the worse.

So I also learned how to be patient, even more so than I already am. It seems every year there’s another big lesson to learn as a quadriplegic; it’s a constant personality enhancing process, folks. Let’s just hope there is really something after we die, otherwise all the lessons we learned in this life will go vamoosh once we’re gone. Sadness.

Luckily, I was able to reclaim my driving ability, but it cost $1800 to make it a reality.  We improved the already-there zero-effort steering in my van, making it at least 70% easier to steer, and thankfully that was enough of a solution. I am now utterly broke though, but I can drive. Maybe now I can drive to score some free grub somewhere?

All I know is that it’s never easy having to ask people for help when you already do in so many other areas. That was the toughest lesson in all of this. In the disability life – you never know what is gonna happen next. You just need to be patient with whatever comes at you, and deal with it with as much grace as possible.

Has an injury set you back for a spell? How did you deal with the temporary loss of independence?

Products Mentioned

– Zero-effort steering from Drive Master

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