Navigating icy pathways and snowy drives can be daunting for just about anyone, but adding a wheelchair or a walker to the mix means Old Man Winter can make you want to hibernate. But don’t shut yourself away. Here are 10 tips for using a wheelchair or walker in the winter, so you can stay safe when you venture out to get some crisp fresh air.
1. Clear the Way
Have someone clear your ramp, walkway, sidewalks, and drive. Wheelchairs require clearance that is typically about 36 inches wide. These areas should be cleared as much as possible as any snow that is left behind could melt and refreeze leading to even more dangerous ice. Consider buying a snow mat, which can create a path where shoveling isn’t possible.
2. Create Easier Exits
Quality wheelchair ramps are made of a material that is not slippery when it snows. However, if you do not know if your ramp is made to be slip-resistant, add non-slip tape to it so you can get better traction. Have a good quality doormat in your doorway to prevent moisture, grit, and salt from being tracked indoors.
3. Care for Your Equipment
When you are not using your walker or wheelchair, store it inside rather than in an unheated garage, carport, or shed. Freezing temperatures can harm them. It’s also important to dry and clean your chair, tire rims, or walker with a dry cloth when you come back inside to prevent rust from exposure to rock salt or snow.
4. Upgrade Your Tires
Just as in the case of your car, you can get winter tires for your wheelchair. These specially designed tires have treads that will add extra grip for snowy and icy ground. You can order the exact size that you need to fit your wheelchair from a bike shop. The wider the tire, the more stable it will be on the “giving” snow surface.
5. Deck out Your Walker
Those metal handles get really cold in wintry weather! Adding a soft-sided piece of Velcro to your walker handles will help knit gloves grip it. You can also get a fleece cover for your walker handle that will prevent you from having to touch the cold metal directly. You can also find specially-made gloves with the kinds of treads that slip-proof socks have if you do a little searching online.
6. Dress the Part
It’s not only about your equipment–it’s important to dress yourself for the weather when you go out. Dress in layers that can be added and removed as the temperature changes. Keep extra pairs of socks and gloves with you so you can change if the ones you have on get wet. If you use a wheelchair, consider a poncho that is made to keep both you and your chair dry.
7. Have a Helper
If you normally propel your wheelchair yourself, you may need some help moving through the snow, as it is quite different. Ask a friend or loved one to join you on your first venture out so you can get a feel for whether or not you’ll need assistance for the duration of your outing. Help with then be there if you need it!
8. Walk This Way
Though sneakers are super comfy when using your walker in nice weather, it’s important to choose the right footwear when the weather is bad. The added traction from proper snow boots will help keep you stable and safe. Try to walk close to buildings and other structures so you can lean on them if you start to lose your balance.
9. Light it Up
It gets dark earlier in winter, so you need to make sure you can see and be seen. Buy clip-on flashlights to affix to a walker or wheelchair to help you see more clearly. Headlamps and taillights for bicycles can be added onto a wheelchair frame for visibility. Consider adding reflectors to your chair’s wheels or wearing a high-visibility vest like those you’ve seen on workers at the side of the road.
10. Stay Smart and Safe
Always use your best judgment about the days and times that you venture out. If you prefer, enjoy your time outside with a friend or as part of a group. If you do go out alone, use the “buddy system” and let someone know where you’re going, what route you’ll be taking, and promise to call or text when you’re safely home.
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