How to be a wheelchair user in winter?! — Scope | Disability forum
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How to be a wheelchair user in winter?!

TraceyFalcon Member Posts: 28 Courageous

I am a fairly new wheelchair user. I lost the ability to walk last October but didn't start going out and about in a wheelchair until March so I missed the winter. My wheelchair manufacturer says don't use in rain, snow or ice. The roads near me are narrow and slippery even in drizzle! I don't want to be housebound this winter and know there must be a way. How do I get out and about in winter in my wheelchair? I don't know where to go for help and practical advice. Can anyone please help me?


  • david235
    david235 Member Posts: 170 Pioneering
    The "do not use in rain, snow or ice" is rather conservative. Some rain cannot be avoided - so long as you take account of the dangers of slippery hand rims (in a manual - wheelchair gloves help a lot) or not getting the electronics soaking wet (in a powerchair) you're likely to be fine. I've managed 7 years as a manual user and now 12 years as a power user and only the heaviest rain stopped me - and that was more about not wanting to be soaked.

    Snow and ice tends to be a showstopper in a wheelchair - you just can't get traction and, most importantly, you can't stop safely and reliably. It is important to know the limits of your chair and especially your tyres.
  • TraceyFalcon
    TraceyFalcon Member Posts: 28 Courageous
    Thank you, that's encouraging. The hand controls I know can be covered but what about the battery etc under the chair. Would these need to be covered too?
    Snow and ice.... so I could go to work in the rain but not in snow or ice?! That would take a very patient employer. I am still receiving treatment so am not ready to go back to work yet but really good to know. Thanks again.
  • david235
    david235 Member Posts: 170 Pioneering
    The batteries in all modern wheelchairs are sealed and will be enclosed in some sort of structure under the chair anyway. The electronics getting wet can be a problem, especially if water gets into the connectors. The electronic modules should be sealed to a fairly good standard, but it is possible for these seals to fail.

    As you rightly note, there is a balance to be struck and you have to live your life. So long as you do your best to keep out of puddles and you bring the chair inside when you can, wiping off any water that you can, the chances are you will be fine. I've not had a water related breakdown in nearly 13 years (it's 13 years next month) of being a powerchair user.

    I don't have the greatest setup on my current main chair for traction in difficult conditions such as snow and ice. My backup chair would be absolutely hopeless in difficult conditions because it's a lightweight folding model I use for international travel (I don't trust airlines to give me back my main chair in one piece - a folding chair packed into a specialist case is much more likely to survive).

    I am looking to replace my main chair later this year - and when I do, I will be going for tyres that are better suited to difficult circumstances. Even so, snow and ice is a huge challenge for powerchairs, not least because they ordinarily move off with a huge amount of torque. If you drive, you will likely be familiar with driving in snow and ice and how it can help to start off in a higher gear to reduce torque at the wheels. Depending on your chair, it might be possible to program a profile that limits acceleration in order to improve performance in snow and ice.
  • TraceyFalcon
    TraceyFalcon Member Posts: 28 Courageous
    I feel much more confident to use the chair in the rain now, thank you so much.
    There are a lot of drop kerbs and sloped pavements for car access to drives here and I already struggle getting over them as it is so it really wouldn't be possible in slippery conditions.
    I have an old second hand chair at the moment to start me off as I didn't have a clue what to look out for so your comments about torque and wheels are helpful considerations when it comes to moving up to another chair. And that opens a whole new can of worms, Motability for a wheelchair or a car? Thankfully I am not there yet so don't have to make that decision just now!
    I am also heartened hearing about your folding wheelchair for International travel, all additional costs but it gives me hope that I might get to do some 'normal' things again one day.
    Thanks again and good luck with your new chair.
  • pollyanna1052
    pollyanna1052 Member Posts: 2,032 Disability Gamechanger
    When it`s wet, I wear a coverall and try to keep the joystick covered. I can actually still operate it under the cover. I was also told not to use it in rain and snow...but that cant always be anticipated. Just be sensible about going out in obvious stormy wet and blustery snowy days.

    My current chair is a wheelchair services salsa quickie....but before this, I got a chair on Motability....I wouldnt do so again....too expensive..cost me nearly 4k and then I had to hand it back.
  • emmarenshaw
    emmarenshaw Member Posts: 711 Pioneering
    Hello @TraceyFalcon a warm welcome to our community. I’m a powerchair user as well, and I’d just echo what the others have said really. As long as your reasonably careful and covered on the really rainy/snowy days you should be fine. I’ve gotten really good at turning my chair up full speed and dodging a shower or two over the years. 
  • TraceyFalcon
    TraceyFalcon Member Posts: 28 Courageous
    Thank you so much for your comments @emmarenshaw and @pollyanna1052. Very useful advice and I will absolutely take on board the Motability comment!
    I still wonder how being so weather dependant affects how people are able to work? I'm not back at work yet but assume that one day I might be, How possible will it be for me to travel to work in winter if I am reliant on a powerchair?
  • david235
    david235 Member Posts: 170 Pioneering
    If you are struggling with drop kerbs, slopes and the like, it might be that the problem is that you've turned the speed control down too low, @TraceyFalcon . On many control systems, turning down the speed robs torque as well as reducing speed - and it's torque you need in these situations. It is also better not to tackle slopes from a standing start if possible - but that takes confidence and experience to judge. It is crucial to hit any sort of slope or obstacle 'square on' for the sake of stability - and not too fast, otherwise you can break things!

    I find I only use two speeds on my chair - full speed when I'm in it and minimum speed to load it into the car (I transfer to the driver's seat as I can walk a few paces - it saves all the extra costs and compromises of a drive from wheelchair vehicle). With practice you find you can do even the most delicate manoeuvring with the speed turned up to maximum.

    Part of the trick of mastering powerchair control is working out how to hold the joystick in a stable fashion. I find it easiest to have my joystick in the V between my thumb and index finger. Others grasp the joystick from above - but if you do this, it often helps to rest your little and ring fingers against the side of the controller for additional stability.

    Most control systems can be programmed to suit your requirements - though many chairs are left on the compromise defaults from the manufacturer. Programmers are not supposed to find their way into the hands of users, and it is always best to work with the supplier of the chair to optimise the programming if you can, especially if you have access to a physiotherapist or occupational therapist who is used to programming wheelchairs. That said, programmers are out there for many control systems if you ask around. Obviously, you take full responsibility if you reprogram your own chair, you should always take and store a copy of the program you start out with, and only reprogram equipment that you own.

    I would start by enquiring whether NHS Wheelchair Services will meet your needs. Some Wheelchair Services are better than others; mine sets such tough restrictions on powerchairs these days that I'm ignoring them this time round as I'm fortunate enough to have been offered funding for a chair from another source. I have wasted so much time and have suffered such abuse at the hands of my Wheelchair Service that I'm happy to have nothing to do with them this time - but I hear a lot of good stories about the surrounding areas. There is a long standing problem with Wheelchair Services in my area.

    If Wheelchair Services say you don't qualify for an NHS powerchair, then I would consider buying privately if at all possible. Especially if your requirements are relatively straightforward and you don't need any sort of powered seating, there are some good deals to be had. I would avoid Motability if you are in this bracket if possible - as @pollyanna1052 says, they are an expensive option and you have to hand the chair back at the end of the lease. If you have any sort of creditworthiness, you would likely get a better deal buying a chair on finance or an unsecured personal loan (check which is cheaper, as it may well be the personal loan) and use your Mobility component to pay off the finance or loan.

    Things get much more difficult when you are in the sort of position I face. My NHS neurological physiotherapist confirmed my fears last week that this time round I don't just need a specialist high end cushion and a specialist back, but I need a back that provides a greater level of support than my current specialist back and really need a complete powered seating setup (tilt, recline, powered legrests - and, if the money will stretch, lift). I know I'm looking at over £10k of chair to do all this properly (in fact, it's likely to be close to £15k) - but fighting against this uncomfortable news isn't going to help.

    If you are in this high need bracket, can't get an NHS chair that suits your needs, you don't need Motability for a car and don't have any other source of finance then having a chair on Motability might make sense. Otherwise, I would steer well clear.

    What upsets me more is that if various muscle groups that have become weak cannot be made to work better then I have been told I will probably need to go into a spinal brace because I'm so unstable now. That is taking some getting used to and I confess I'm struggling with that news.

    I strongly recommend any scooter or powerchair user has insurance. It doesn't cost much if you shop around and gives you a high level of cover for third party claims, which is the most important part. The recent sad case of Irmgard Wicken (warning - the video is graphic), who was hit from behind by a mobility scooter user who then ran off once others came to her aid, shows how important third party insurance is. The family have had to pay for Irmgard and her elderly husband, who has dementia and whom she cares for, to go into a nursing home for a while whilst Irmgard recovers. If the scooter user had come forward and was insured, these costs would have been covered by his insurance. As it is, with the scooter user running off, her family are left to cover these costs.
  • April2018mom
    April2018mom Posts: 2,869 Member
    Hello @TraceyFalcon!
    In bad weather I do not waste time. Since I live in a apartment building, we have the added benefit of off street parking underneath our building. I use that as much as possible. I just bought a plastic cover in case. Not that we will be out much anymore. 
    For airline travel, I tell them he uses a wheelchair and politely insist on them accepting his inability to walk. I am more concerned with his bladder medication which I always store in my carry on suitcase. I take a letter from his urologist in case of difficulty. 
    By all means begin with the NHS wheelchair services but if they cannot help, investigate other options. We eventually built a wheelchair with some help from one of my friends who is a engineer. I contacted them via email to ask questions but they could not help me at all. There are a number of charities who can offer help. Ring up or email them. 
    See what they say. Do you have a PT/OT or not? My son’s old physical therapist was a good source of information. She answered my questions and supported us. But she moved away. Talk to your therapists and ask for suggestions. 
  • siobhan1
    siobhan1 Member Posts: 77 Pioneering
    I also went from walking a bit to using a powerchair over a year ago. I live on the side of the Pennines up a huge hill and my town is basically one slippery hill with narrow paths. Nightmare. I use a poncho in the rain. I don't like the medical looking ones you can get from mobility shops so I bought a regular poncho from Joules who I'd nice ones. Its big enough to go over the back of my shair handles, over the sides and control panel, and my knees and head. My feet still get wet but they would if I was walking so I wear wellies in the rain which makes nosey people very confused.

    Ice and snow I have found that putting down rock salt outside my home is a must. I tend to go out when it's warm and when it's really too slippery outside I make the most of things like ring and ride because that's what they're there for.

    Also a flask of hot water if I really must go out because that way if I get stuck in the snow I can always melt it from around my wheels and castors and just go back home. Then at least if I can't get to where I'm going at least I'm not stranded.
  • TraceyFalcon
    TraceyFalcon Member Posts: 28 Courageous
    @April2018mom Thank you. That's all really great advice. I see a P/T at the hospital but they are always so rushed! I will try them next time. I am a single parent so don't have anyone to drive me. I rely on buses at the moment and the nearest stop is a bit of a schlep from my house, hence the questions about getting anyway in winter! Great that you can still manage International travel. Gives me hope!
  • TraceyFalcon
    TraceyFalcon Member Posts: 28 Courageous
    @david235 Hi David, Thank you for all of that advice. I'm sorry your condition is deteriorating but, as you say, for more expenses needs then Motability might be the way forward. I guess most people on here understand the struggle of new conditions or bad health news. Still, grieving is important as not being able to do things in the way we once could is a huge loss.
    The drop kerb issues I have aren't with getting up or down then but rather travelling over them sideways if you get what I mean! Here, there are lots of drives with quite steep drop kerbs, some next to each other so there are a couple of areas along the pavement where I am travelling at quite a steep angle, I can drift a little towards the road (and once onto the road) in not particularly slippery conditions.
    At the moment my current second hand chair is serving me pretty well and is quite chunky. I'll get through this winter and learn a lot about it's handling I'm sure.
    Good luck finding the right new chair for you.
  • TraceyFalcon
    TraceyFalcon Member Posts: 28 Courageous
    @GalDriver Thank you for the link. I will definitely get one of those.
  • TraceyFalcon
    TraceyFalcon Member Posts: 28 Courageous
    @siobhan1 Thank you, that's wonderful advice and your conditions sound far worse than any I'm likely to experience. I will definitely take on board the salt and hot water advice. I haven't heard of ring and ride. I wonder t=if that's just a local service?
  • Adrian_Scope
    Adrian_Scope Posts: 8,096

    Scope community team

    Hi @TraceyFalcon, I think Ring and Ride is just West Midlands based, but there might be something similar more local to you!
    Community Manager

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  • david235
    david235 Member Posts: 170 Pioneering
    The drop kerb issues I have aren't with getting up or down then but rather travelling over them sideways if you get what I mean! Here, there are lots of drives with quite steep drop kerbs, some next to each other so there are a couple of areas along the pavement where I am travelling at quite a steep angle, I can drift a little towards the road (and once onto the road) in not particularly slippery conditions.
    Hi @TraceyFalcon and thank you for all your encouragement in my circumstances.

    I understand what you mean now - you are travelling along the pavement and the drop kerb pushes you towards the road. Unless your chair is one of the few with gyro stabilisation, you need to push the joystick away from the direction you don't want to be pushed by the slope. It takes a bit of practice and is easier in some chairs than others - it depends on the capabiliies and programming of the chair. It's really difficult to avoid being thrown towards the road by some steep drop kerbs, especially if the drive wheel tyres don't have very good grip.

    Gyro stabilisation is only found on relatively few high end chairs. It - or something similar - is necessary on front wheel drive chairs as they are inherently unstable. If you have it, you should know about it, not least because you need to turn it off when using the chair on a moving vehicle. It can also cause issues when manoeuvring.
  • TraceyFalcon
    TraceyFalcon Member Posts: 28 Courageous
    @david235 Thank you! I definitely don't have gyro stabilsation but will look out for it when I win the lottery and buy a super high end chair! I am getting there driving wise and think I naturally do what you suggest  - I'll keep practising. I think my chair is quite old maybe 9 or 10 years, not sure how many users before me but it goes brilliantly and has been a lifesaver after several housebound months. I now have a bit of independence in spite of some tricky rides!
  • Doc
    Doc Member Posts: 6 Connected
    I've found that rear wheel drive chairs are terrible on slopes, wether suddenly veering into road, or not stopping downhill (even when in full reverse and feet on floor!) I'm sure my old Quickie wanted me dead... I now have a mid wheel drive, not had any problems, and much smaller turning circle!
    I don't understand why wheelchair controllers are not made to be waterproof, control panels of  motorcycles are, so must surely be possible? I use a food bag to cover the control panel incase it rains whilst out, the type with handles allows it to be tied in place.
  • TraceyFalcon
    TraceyFalcon Member Posts: 28 Courageous
    Thanks @Doc I'm glad you survived your Quickie's attempts! I agree, why aren't the controls waterproof? I've got a rain cover for the controls and a poncho too. why is everything so expensive?!!
  • Doc
    Doc Member Posts: 6 Connected
    @TraceyFalcon Everything is so expensive because we're a captive market, they can charge what they like... bit like drug companies taking advantage of the sick.
  • TraceyFalcon
    TraceyFalcon Member Posts: 28 Courageous


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