Saturday, 9 April 2016

10 things you need to know when pushing a wheelchair

Apparently everything is about lists these days, and honestly, right now my studies are pretty demanding meaning I don't have the time for indepth long-form blog posts currently, so a clickbaity list post works great!

You might think pushing a wheelchair is easy.  You just push it to go and stop to stop.  But there's more you need to think about when doing so.  Here are ten guidelines you should consider if you're ever put in charge of pushing someone in a wheelchair...

1. FEET!

Be mindful of the fact that you can't see where the feetplates are.  Leave plenty of space so you don't scrape the ankles of anyone you're pushing behind.  Also make sure that when waiting to cross the road that you're not pushing the wheelchair out into the road so that you can see when to cross.  Turn the wheelchair to the side if necessary so that you can step out further to see.  This is also a good tip for people pushing prams and strollers/buggys.


Be aware that people do silly things like step backwards without checking behind them or stopping suddenly in the middle of the walkway without warning.  Leave space in front of the wheelchair so that the person in the wheelchair won't end up with someone in their lap accidentally.


Going over bumpy surfaces can be really unpleasant.  If possible, tip the chair slightly so that the front wheels are off the ground to give the person in the wheelchair a more comfortable ride.


Tip the front wheels off the ground when going up or down curbs, steps or over gaps (such as at a cattlestop, or between a train and a platform).  This makes a safer and smoother transition.


If going downhill, particularly steep inclines, it can be easier and safer to turn the chair around and guide the chair with gravity doing most of the work (DON'T LET GO OF THE CHAIR THOUGH!!!).  This will prevent the person falling out of the chair.


In crowds, be aware that it can be really unpleasant and claustrophobic for people in wheelchairs.  We're often at butt height which you can imagine can be malodorous, and elbow height so we sometimes have to watch our heads around particularly flaily people.  Able-bodied people tend to have less cause for being spatially aware.  There's not much you can do about this, but check in on the person in the wheelchair regularly and make sure they're ok.


If you see someone you know and have a conversation with them, or talk to someone at a shop counter, don't just steer the wheelchair so that the person in it ends up forced to stare at a wall while you chat away.  Even if they don't need or want to be part of the conversation, no wall is that fascinating.


Likewise, don't steer them physically away from the conversation.  It doesn't matter whether they know the person or not or if they want to be part of the conversation, turn the chair around so they can join in if they wish to, or at least see and know what's going on and who you're talking to.


People often see wheelchairs and get excited or curious (or just plain nosey, but that's by the by).  Let the wheelchair user speak for themselves and answer the questions themselves if they can and want to.  Feel free to ignore the nosey people if that's what the wheelchair user wants.  They don't owe anyone their story if they don't want to share it.  A good idea is to discuss this before you go so you know how they want to deal with it beforehand.


Never push the wheelchair without first letting the person in it know that you're about to.  Always get permission before touching the wheelchair if you haven't been asked, let alone pushing.  Lastly, let them know if you're going to let go so they can put brakes on if the ground isn't level.  Have had more than a couple of scares recently where I thought I was being pushed along but they'd actually let go and gravity was taking over...

And that's a quick low-down of what you need to know in no particular order.  
Safe rolling!


  1. I have never done any of these things wrong. ever.

  2. This was a super useful list! I guess it's a bit like operating a car - try to leave enough room for unexpected events! And butts! I think I'll have to be doing a bit of wheelchair steering in the near future so this is very timely!

    1. Yay! I'm glad it's helpful! It's stuff I've come to realise over time in a wheelchair and honestly even the most practiced pushers still make mistakes especially with 7, 8 and 10 lol. But yes butts... lots of butts everywhere! they lose their appeal when you're forced to stare at them all the time!

  3. Indeed that the pushing of the wheelchairs needs to be perfect otherwise the proper directions will not be met. The shower wheelchair happens to be the perfect for this kind of usage.