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Saturday, 28 November 2015

Learning to self-propel

I've come to the conclusion that this is somewhat like driving or riding a bike. Some people are naturally co-ordinated, whereas others have to really practise. I was recently asked about technique, which was quite a difficult question to answer because I've never really thought about my technique until asked.

Now I've had time to reflect, the first thing that is important, is to sit as comfortably as a potentially uncomfortable body will allow. Even off-the-shelf wheelchairs often have velcro straps under the seat and back padding, that can be adjusted to give support where it is needed the most. My weakest area is my lumbar, so when Tom delivered my chair, he tightened the back straps at lumbar level so it gave me support there. I was just sitting there while he pulled and yanked on the straps. It was a bit like having a corset fitted.

Another thing that is different on different wheelchairs is how far back or forward the big wheels are. The further forward they are, the easier it will be to manoeuvre but that comes with the risk of accidentally tipping over backwards, as the centre of gravity is higher up. If you're in a new or unfamiliar chair, don't set off with too much gusto or you might just do the scariest wheelie ever and land up flat on your back.

Outdoors is a great place to be but it's not designed for learning about your wheelchair and getting started. My advice - find an indoor shopping centre or big supermarket (preferably off-peak). The floor will be flat and smooth in every direction (unless the builder was drunk, which happens) and you'll be able to propel with minimal effort, leaving you free to get a feel for steering.

Sit back in your chair and dangle your arms down over the wheels. Then reach for the push rims... imagine your wheel is like a clock face... grab at 12 o' clock. Push both hands forward to about 2 o' clock and if you can, do a sort of flick as you let go. On a smooth surface, that should get you moving in a straight(ish) line.

Try doing the same, but backwards. Grab at 2 and pull back to 12 with a flick but just check there's nobody behind you first. Shouting 'beep... beep... beep' in the manner of a reversing lorry can help, if you're not able to twist around.

Finally, try combining the two. Push forward with one hand and back with the other. What happens? Hopefully you turned around. Play with this a bit and you should get the idea of turning. It's a bit like steering a car. You have little bends that you can do one-handed (of course, as a driver, you wouldn't actually do it one-handed). Then you have tight corners that need more concentrated technique.

After you've had a play around going around an indoor shopping centre, you may find that your hands are a bit sore. It depends whether you use mild green fairy liquid (I believe). I do, and so I have delicate, soft skin. Propelling does take it's toll on such hands, so I have a range of gloves to help me out. Cycling gloves are really great. Leather is good or some other material that enhances grip. Padded palms, e.g. gel, are fantastic! It's worth having fingerless and full fingers and some with thinsulate lining, so that all weather/temperatures are covered.

1 comment:

  1. I find most adult chairs the wheels are too far back for me and also I struggle to push because I have quite short arms but longer body. Gloves are a must if you are pushing long distances.