Ah 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?