Navigating Crowds from a Wheelchair


There are a lot of things difficult about using a wheelchair – old inaccessible buildings, narrow bathroom stalls, doors that open the wrong way – but one of the most difficult things by far is navigating massive crowds from a wheelchair.  When you’re at butt level, people just don’t see you.

This is the main reason why navigating crowds is so hard. People won’t move when they don’t realize they’re in the way. They need to be alerted they need to move, and that brings up the other issue – getting their attention. When you have limited arm strength like me, as well as a voice that can’t project very loudly, trying to get someone’s attention in a crowd is really hard; especially if the atmosphere is loud (concerts I’m looking at you).

I’ve honed my skills of getting someone’s attention down pat. I do the reach-and-pat-their-leg move, preferably the thigh, to get them to look my way so they realize they are in the way. This generally works 90% of time. There are some people however that just can’t seem to feel might tap. Maybe they have lowered nerve sensation in their legs or maybe their pans are just really tight; whenever it is these people are the ones that give me the biggest headache.

To get the attention of these particularly stubborn people I will then try to get the attention of other people nearby who will shake that person’s shoulder so they finally realize they’re in the way. This works, even if it’s pretty annoying to have to go through these steps. By the way, I do have a horn on my wheelchair, but it’s only a tiny beeping noise, nothing long enough to hear in a booming crowd.  Speaking of, while it’s not my style, some wheelchair-users have found a solution by putting a bullhorn on their wheelchair.  But me, I’m way too shy to be that brash.

I have another solution that works even better than a bullhorn.  I put my wheelchair in elevator mode; an elevated state that brings my chair up 6 1/2 inches, making me sit at about 5’1 and much more visible to the average person who doesn’t think about watching out for wheelchairs (and sadly, most people are this way).  When I’m elevated, people notice me rolling their way at least 40% more.

And if all else fails in getting their attention, a can of silly spray may be your only option. That or bringing a bodyguard with you wherever you hit the throngs.  Sometimes though you can’t always be prepared for crowds, and you have no choice but to go through them solo. When navigating crowds deftly from a wheelchair, look for holes and routes around the thickest part, and try to get behind a moving group to give yourself a better path.  These are just a few of the tricks I’ve learned in my 20 years of using a wheelchair.

Crowds may suck, but super fun events should not be avoided because of them.  Instead, learn how to get through them, have your tricks ready and still get out there. Other then Mardi Gras and a few other crazy big events where you might get trampled, wheelchair-users should always try to venture out and make it through.  Life is an adventure, no one said it’s easy, and the risk, especially when it comes to crowds, is usually always worth it.

What are your tricks for getting through a crowd in a wheelchair?

Products mentioned

– Wheelchair horn

– Wheelchair bullhorn

– Elevator seat from Invacare

Photo courtesy of Luluw

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