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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ramps and Ascending or Descending Curbs and a Single Step According to the Wheelchair Manual

Ascending or descending a curb or single step is a risky proposition according to the wheelchair manual. The manual contains many bold exclamation points in a triangle next to each paragraph and drawing of ascending or descending a step or curb. Repeated warnings caution the wheelchair user to never attempt to ascend or descend a step. NEVER. Read carefully. This ascending and descending a single step or curb is a seven step process.

1. NEVER attempt to negotiate a curb or single step without assistance. 
2. Instruct your assistant to stand at the rear of your wheelchair, with the front of the wheelchair facing the obstacle.
3. NEVER attempt to negotiate any such obstacle backward. 
4. Instruct your assistant to tilt the chair up on the rear wheels so that the front casters clear the curb or step. 
5. Instruct your assistant to slowly move the chair forward and to gently lower the casters to the upper level as soon as you are sure that they are beyond the edge of the curb or step. 
6. Instruct your assistant to continue to roll the chair forward until the rear wheels contact the face of the curb or step. 
7. Instruct your assistant to lift and roll the rear wheels up too the upper level. 

Wow, there is a whole lot of instructing going on. What the above instructions do not take into account is the need to remove or rotate the anti tippers. Anti tippers according to the manual "were designed to prevent falls from the wheelchair". I am sure anti tippers do indeed prevent some people from falling. They are also completely impractical for any person who is independent and, to use manual jargon, a skilled rider.

Let me describe the wheelchair manual way to safely cross the street and ascend and descend a curb. Wheelchair manual way is an alternate universe I have never been to.

1. Check the weather forecast.  Avoid direct sunlight, sand, dirt, snow and all adverse weather conditions.
2. Never be alone. Always be dependent upon a caregiver or assistant.
3. At the curb come to a complete stop. Have your caretaker or assistant rotate the anti tippers.
4. Follow above steps 4 through 7.

The method for ascending and descending a step or curb is pure fantasy. An independent person such a myself has no assistant. The entire point of the wheelchair is to insure independence. When I cross the street I put my head down and in a crowded urban environment wear a baseball cap. I have learned it helps to keep my head down and make it impossible for bipeds to see my eyes. Without eye contact bipeds are far more likely to move laterally and out of my way. When I cross a street or approach a curb I do so with as much speed as humanly possible. When I am mere inches from the curb I pop a wheelie, lean forward and push the rear wheels as hard as humanly possible. Depending upon how fast I am moving I can independently ascend a curb of 6 to 8 inches. As for descending, I face the curb, pop a wheelie and drop of curb. This is effective but a bit jarring on the lower back. Sometimes if the concrete or asphalt is in bad repair I do exactly what the manual instructs me not to do--I negotiate the curb backwards.  Lean all the way forward and back off the curb. This is very effective and safe.

Aside from ascending and descending curbs, ramps too are dangerous. I kid you not! No ramp, slope, or hill should exceed 10 degrees and be more than 10 feet or 3 meters long. No slope or hill should ever be navigated alone.

If you need to use a short ramp 10 feet (3 meters) or less, the angle of the slope should not exceed 10 degrees, which corresponds to a slope of 17.63%, a rise or 1.74 feet (0.53 meters) over a distance of 10 feet (3 meters). Make sure to be assisted by a caregiver who has the physical ability to retain the wheelchair and its occupant. The wheelchair must always point facing up the slope. The caregiver should always remain in the bottom of the slope to retain the wheelchair. Always lock the anti tip in the safe position. Follow the same words of caution for a hill or slope of 10% or less. 

Again, these instructions are all too easy to laugh at but someone had to do some basic math. Calculations were made and perhaps some field testing was involved. Aside from the loss of independence, one must have an assistant mind you, I would estimate half of the ramps I regularly use are more than a 10% grade or 5.7 degree angle. Bridges come to mind as do many bike paths I use regularly. Needless to say, no ramp or slope should be navigated when wet. Slippery surfaces are especially dangerous.

The manual also includes an entire section for caregivers. I can only assume this section is where I learn how to tell my assistant or caregiver what to when the weather is perfect and environmental conditions permit me to go outside.  Among the highlights in the caregiver section include the fact a wheelchair user should never be left unattended. If unattended the caregiver should engage the wheelchair locks and place the beloved anti tippers in the safe position. Caregivers should also ensure the wheelchair has push handles and when pushing a wheelchair to stand in an upright position. It is equally important to "ask an experienced caregiver to explain safe assistance methods to you".

I am not sure what to tackle next. The wheelchair manual has truly endless fodder for laughs. Transferring out of the wheelchair is dangerous. Getting dressed in a wheelchair is strongly discouraged. Stairs are out of the question and warrant an entire bold faced paragraph that discuss the great danger they pose any wheelchair user. I also cannot under any circumstances use a bus or any paratransit service. The wheelchair manual is emphatic with regard to all mass transit. Motion Composites cannot, and does not, recommend any wheelchair transporting systems. For goodness sake, the manual is equally emphatic it is not safe to transport the wheelchair in a car. The front seat for the wheelchair is out of the question and even the rear seat is not recommended. It must be placed and secured in the rear of the vehicle, preferably the trunk. How am I, an expert rider, supposed to get the wheelchair in the trunk is not explained.  More tomorrow.

2 comments:

Second Summit said...

I wish I had anything useful to say, except that I'm reading your post, and I'm just appalled. I guess their wheelchairs were designed and built without any conversations with skilled riders?

Shannon said...

Are they serious? You are not supposed to use transportation? You are not supposed to get dressed in it? What sort of weather is Ok?