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One wrong move - when life isn't set up for wheelchairs

Gareth_H Member Posts: 8 Connected

Gareth is 36 years old, lives in the north east of England and has been tetraplegically paralysed for the last 14 years, following a road traffic accident. He splits his time between working from home as well as at a local college, whilst also playing wheelchair rugby and table tennis. He runs the blog Diary of a Gimpy Kid and writes in conjunction with the disability aids site Active Hands. Today he is talking to us about accessing healthcare in a wheelchair.

I had my biennial optician’s appointment yesterday. On the drive in, I found myself thinking about the chair I was going to have to transfer myself into and tried to recall the technique I’d used to accomplish this previously. As it turns out, and for the very first time, the optician didn’t ask me to transfer, instead simply telling me to reverse back to where the chair was and take my sight test from there. This was indeed a welcome change, although I did feel like a bit of a cheat during the test, as I was now sat a whole metre closer to the letters I had to read out! 

Whether it be transferring into an optician’s chair for a sight test, a dentist’s chair for an oral check-up, or a hospital plinth for various organ scans/tests, I always have to mentally prepare myself and psyche myself up beforehand. After all, one wrong move from either myself or my chair, and I’ll need scooping off the floor like an upside down lasagne!  


The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, when accessing the vast majority of medical clinics in a wheelchair, if the appointment involves anything more intrusive than a basic consultation, then I am expected to transfer into the clinic chair which is never in my experience set up to accommodate wheelchair transfers. At my local dentist, the armrest of the chair swivels outwards 90 degrees, however the base of the chair slopes out onto the floor, meaning that in order to pull up alongside it I have to push one castor up and onto the base so that when I transfer my front castors are on different levels, making the chair tip from side to side as I edge myself over, painfully aware that each lift could be my last! 

Moving on from medical health to physical health, and accessing equipment and machines at the gym often poses a similar array of problems (don’t even get me started on trying to access a swimming pool)! I was a member of a local gym for years where all I could use was the handbike (once the seat had been removed by a staff member), a couple of pulley machines (providing they were set up for me first) and the free weights. And due to my injury affecting my hand function; even this wouldn’t have been possible without using my Active Hands gripping aids in conjunction with the various gym items and apparatus.  

Sadly there is no way that my lack of sensation or core balance would allow me to perch on the tiny, fixed seats attached to the majority of gym machines, and that’s not even taking into account whether I could even transfer on and off them in the first place! Yes, there are gyms that provide accessible machines, where the seats swing away, allowing a wheelchair user to work out from his/her chair; there is even one near me. However, I simply cannot afford the huge monthly fee that this high-end gym charges, and it unfortunately would seem that, if you are a wheelchair user wishing to access gym machinery, then you have to pay a premium for the privilege. Instead, I decided to bypass the gym completely and towards the end of last year managed to pick up an ex-gym handbike on eBay. That, coupled with the free weights I own, enables me to achieve just as good a workout as I was getting at my old gym, but without the monthly fee or journeys in the rain! 


Overall I would say that although I am grateful to live in a time where public buildings now have to be made accessible wherever possible, I can still encounter issues once inside them. I am largely able to find ways around these issues, using a combination of inventive wheelchair positioning and transfers; however one or two face to floor falls could convince me to reassess things in the future! 

But what about you guys? Have you ever experienced difficulties accessing various medical and physical health apparatus? Or do you maybe have any solutions to the problems faced here? Let us know in the comments! 


  • Richard_Scope
    Richard_Scope Posts: 3,131 Scope online community team
    Hi @Gareth_H
    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I have to admit that I have had to give up on gyms.
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  • Ami2301
    Ami2301 Member Posts: 7,945 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi @Gareth_H thanks for sharing and a great post! I receive the first of many dental treatments tomorrow and a likelihood of transferring from wheelchair to dentist chair. With it being at different angles I am anxious about it but we shall see!
    Disability Gamechanger - 2019
  • Adrian_Scope
    Adrian_Scope Posts: 8,595 Scope online community team
    Thanks for sharing with us @Gareth_H, this was really interesting.
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  • Gareth_H
    Gareth_H Member Posts: 8 Connected
    Thanks for the feedback, it was a pleasure writing for the site!

    Unfortunately it seems that it is often a crapshoot as to whether there is a gym with wheelchair accessible equipment nearby, resulting in a lot of people being denied the opportunity to work out in this way and instead meaning they have to find other, more inventive or expensive ways of doing it. For example, using Thera-Bands or buying their own specific gym equipment.

    Good luck with the dentist appointment Ami! Hopefully you'll be able to figure out a method of transferring that works best for you. The first time you do it always seems to be the most nerve-wracking, once you've done it successfully then at least, for future transfers, you'll know it can be done. And don't be afraid to ask someone to hold your chair steady as you transfer, especially if it's at an awkward angle!
  • Nader
    Nader Member Posts: 51 Courageous
    Hi Gareth
    Thanks for the piece you've written. And thanks for the link to your blog. It's excellent. Very encouraging, inspiring … and entertaining!

    I'm looking forward to more …

  • Ami2301
    Ami2301 Member Posts: 7,945 Disability Gamechanger
    Thanks @Gareth_H! Thankfully transferring was easy once I figured a way to balance myself getting off the dentist chair :)
    Disability Gamechanger - 2019
  • Gareth_H
    Gareth_H Member Posts: 8 Connected
    Hi Nader, thanks for the feedback, glad to hear you enjoyed the piece and are enjoying the blog too! Unfortunately my life in general isn't interesting enough for overly regular updates haha, but I try to post every month or so... :)

    And that's great news Ami! Hopefully now you've worked out the way that works best for you, you'll be able to hop on and off the dentist chair nerve free...unless you're getting a filling of course ;)
  • Ami2301
    Ami2301 Member Posts: 7,945 Disability Gamechanger
    Only one more filling to go, thank God ?
    Disability Gamechanger - 2019
  • Garza
    Garza Member Posts: 149 Pioneering
    i would be interested to know how much it cost for you to set up your home gym and buy the equipment? 

    In my experience not only is the machinery and equipment expensive but that is often coupled with needed a specialist chair to participate, such as a tennis or racing chair, also many mainstream gyms simply do not have the space or eqoupment available to cater for a wheelchair user, for example the only cardi equipment i have encountered is the arm bike such as in your picture

  • Gareth_H
    Gareth_H Member Posts: 8 Connected
    Hi, you are right, it can be very expensive to stay fit in a wheelchair. I play wheelchair rugby which requires a specialist chair, gloves, tape, tyres, inner tubes etc etc, so the costs do mount up.

    As far as gyms are concerned, as I mentioned in the article, there is a gym near me that has equipment that can be accessed from a wheelchair, however it is a very expensive gym to use. The more reasonably priced one that I used to frequent only really had a handbike, some free weights and a rowing machine that I could access if someone took the seat and long bar off it.

    I don't have a "home gym" per se, as those can cost many thousands and I'm not sure where I would put it. However I do have an ex-gym handbike that I picked up for £200 on eBay and a set of free weights that I use in conjunction with my Active Hands gripping aids. I worked out that after about 18 months of use, I would be saving money on what the monthly gym membership fees were, and that's not including petrol either. It's all about weighing up costs and what space you have in your home really, seeing what works best for you.
  • Garza
    Garza Member Posts: 149 Pioneering
    thanks for the really detailed reply, i agree that it is very much a personal decision as to what you can afford and how much of a priority it is for you, one can only hope that more gyms start to emulate the one you go to which seems very progressive and inclusive
  • Gareth_H
    Gareth_H Member Posts: 8 Connected
    No problem, hope it provided some insight. I'd like to think that over time more and more gyms will become inclusive and offer wheelchair accessible workouts, however only time will tell. Fingers crossed though!
  • dee51
    dee51 Member Posts: 6 Listener
    Gareth. You inspire me. I am not yet wheelchair bound, I use a mobility aid. And out and about, cars park on the pavement and block off access. Especially on the estate where I live. It makes me so ? I don’t drive you see. But reading your story, really, mylife in general, physically, is easier than yours. Thank You for sharing.

  • Topkitten
    Topkitten Member Posts: 1,285 Pioneering
    Sorry, I haven't managed to read all the replies so if I repeat something already said then excuse me.

    On the subject of opticians....... Specsavers will visit people and perform eye tests in your own home. I did this recently and they were pretty helpful though a bit slow and a lot slower than going to an opticians itself (in terms of receiving the glasses).

    Dentistry.... depending on the work needed some can be done again at home, I suspect that mostly relates to dentures though. For more detailed work there is always a hospital dentistry department and hospital transport for those unable to visit the dentist.

    Gyms.... no idea whatsoever I'm afraid as exercise exacerbates my problems and is to be totally and completely avoided.


    "I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell" - from Wrong side of heaven by Five Finger Death Punch.
  • Gareth_H
    Gareth_H Member Posts: 8 Connected
    Hi Dee, thanks very much for your kind words  :) I know how frustrating it can be when someone or something has blocked your access through somewhere, but despite this it sounds as though you're managing really well using your mobility aid. No matter what ability or disability we have, we all find our own ways of managing things, or so I like to think at least!

    Topkitten, thanks for the information! I can't remember where I saw it but literally last week I read that Specsavers can visit your home to do eye tests. I think as I get older and if my arms/shoulders begin to weaken, it's something I'd definitely look into. And yes, I assume the home dentistry would mostly involve very minor work being done, I'm not sure how I'd feel about getting a root canal done in the middle of my living room haha! It's definitely all food for thought though.
  • Sam_Alumni
    Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,674 Disability Gamechanger
    I didnt know this about eye tests! Thanks for sharing @Topkitten - Im going to have a look into this and see if we can come up with a bit of a post around it.
    Senior online community officer


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