Day-to-Day Care


General:  Wheelchair Safety - Tips and Guide You Should Know



As society ages and people live longer, people use wheelchairs for a variety of reasons.  This popular and safe mobility device is meant to provide the user with independence, comfort and the capability to enjoy life to the fullest.  Using a wheelchair is indeed easy most of the time, but there would be certain tricky scenario that you need to be careful for wheelchair safety.

However, there are a variety of wheelchair safety measures you will want to consider and follow to assure you are getting the best use out of your wheelchair.  We have put together this useful wheelchair safety guide to help you avoid any accidents, preventing falls and other safety tips.  Hope you will find this useful!


Centre of Gravity of Wheelchair User
Be aware of your Centre-of-Gravity when you first start using your wheelchair.

Many activities require the wheelchair user to reach, bend and transfer in and out of the wheelchair.  These movements will cause a change to your balance, centre-of-gravity, and weight distribution of the wheelchair.

When reaching, leaning, bending sideways or forward, it is important to use the casters as a tool to maintain stability and balance.  Finding your proper position is essential to your safety when using a wheelchair.  In the beginning you will want to use the casters to help maintain your balance and stability.  Practice conducting a variety of activities such as bending, reaching and transferring in and out of your wheelchair.  All of these movements will cause a change in weight distribution of the wheelchair.

To determine and establish your particular safety limits, practice bending, reaching and transferring activities in several combinations in the presence of another individual BEFORE attempting active use of the wheelchair.  Once you are more comfortable, you will be able to use your wheelchair more safely.



Bending Backward
When you need to reach for something by bending backward, you will want to position your wheelchair as close to the desired object as possible.  Use the casters so they extend away from the drive wheels to create a long wheelbase (Refer to Figure 1 for illustration).  Reach back as far as your arm will extend without changing the position you are sitting in. Please do not bend your wheelchair backwards as you may tilt the wheelchair and falls.



Bending Forward

Please be careful for this.  Firstly, you will always want to keep in mind that you will never want to attempt to reach for an object if you have to position yourself forward on the seat of your wheelchair.  This can be dangerous.  Instead, you will want to position the casters and extend them away from the drive wheels, then engage the wheel locks before reaching forward towards the object.



Figure 1: Casters extend away from the drive wheels to create a long wheelbase




Tipping the Wheelchair

When trying to tip a wheelchair, a helper should grasp the back of the wheelchair on a non-removable part. Do inform the wheelchair occupant before tipping the wheelchair and ask him to lean back for added stability. Be sure the occupant’s feet and hands are clear of all wheels and/or any other pinch points.




Moving through Curbs

You should only move through curbs with the assistance of another person.  It is important for you to develop your own safe technique that is best suited for your abilities with the aid of your healthcare professional. Curbs, steps, and stairways are dangerous obstacles that confront the wheelchair user.  When you encounter these obstacles, try to find a way around them by using curb cuts, ramps or designated disabled elevators now available in most areas.




Preventing Accidents

Tipping and falling are the most common accidents of wheelchair users.  For example, you can fall from making your wheelchair go to fast, unlocked brakes, slippery surfaces, the sitting stability of the user and hitting a large bump with one wheel causing the wheelchair to become unbalanced.  To avoid tipping and falling, the tipping lever should be secure when needed and you should be mindful of your speed around tight corners and on tough surface.  Wheelchair safety is most important!




Safety Tips for Wheelchair Users

Do NOT force your chair down or up staircases, slopes and inclines.

LOCK the brakes before getting out or into the wheelchair.  The power should be turned off for motorised wheelchairs before transferring.

Lift up or adjust the foot rests and arm rests if needed before transferring.

Attach flashy items such as flashing taillights and flags to your wheelchair so that other pedestrians can see you easily in the dark or at night.

Service and replace the casters regularly.  If your are experiencing a side to side motion while going at high speeds this is a sign it needs replacing.

Adjust and program your motorised wheelchair settings so that you are comfortable with the speed.

Do not go out in rainy weather.  Wheelchairs can lose traction and the controls of a motorised wheelchair can get wet.

Avoid having a large heavy bag or items on the back of the wheelchair.  This can cause the wheelchair to tip backwards during transferring.




Fall Prevention

Don’t over stretch or over reach for an object - you may tip over the wheelchair.

Avoid leaning forward - You may tip yourself out of the wheelchair.

Lock the brakes before trying to move out of the wheelchair.

Avoid sliding or positioning yourself too far forward on the seat.

Move any foot rests out of the way to avoid tripping on them during transfer.



Outdoor Use

Certain wheelchairs are designed and manufactured for outdoor uses.  However, you will always want to be careful and avoid some surfaces and weather conditions that may not be friendly to wheelchair movements.


Sandy surfaces should be avoided as much as possible.  Even a paved sidewalk with a small amount of sand scattered on it can cause your wheelchair to become unbalanced, spin around and tip over.  This can happened suddenly, and especially with motorised wheelchairs.  To prevent this from happening, avoid the sandy surface by going around the area.


Also avoid any puddles and wet surfaces.  Splashing through a puddle with your motorised wheelchair can cause the whole wheelchair to become wet, slide, spin, tip and fall over.  You may prefer to avoid the wet surface and skirt around the area instead.  If it is raining outside, proceed with caution and at a slow pace.


When using outdoor ramps, always inspect the condition of the ramp for uneven surfaces, slippery areas, holes and other obstacles in your pathway to the ramp.  If you are approaching a ramp, you can ask someone to take a closer look for you before you attempt to use the ramp.




Travel Tips for Wheelchair Safety

Take photographs of your wheelchair and accessories with your smartphone or a camera that has date/time logged, to capture the condition of your wheelchair your trip starts.  This record may be useful when disputing damages with the travel companies.

Inspect and service your wheelchair before any trip.

Do remove leg rests and accessories from your wheelchair before handing it over to the staff.

Alert the travel company staff that you are a wheelchair user when making reservations.

Gather all wheelchair travel information, rules and regulations you will need to adhere to during your trip.

Carry the contact information of a wheelchair repair shop located close to your destination for emergency purposes.

Bear in mind that wheelchair users are allowed to board the plane first and may be the last to depart the plane, so do prepare enough time, of at least 2 hours between connecting flights.

Conduct research and book flights with airlines that are wheelchair-friendly.  Many budget airlines are not wheelchair friendly, some even charge wheelchair users a handling fee.

Prepare to have your wheelchair completely inspected at the security gate.  This includes non-removable pouches and even your seat cushion.

Inform Customs / Security agents at the security check of your limitations.



Maintenance and Servicing

For dependability and longevity, keeping your wheelchair in top condition is essential.  Depending on how much you use your wheelchair you will want to at least provide maintenance once a year.  If you use your wheelchair frequently you will want to make sure the battery is always charged and visit a repair shop at the first sign of any problem with your wheelchair.  The repair shop technician will discuss a service schedule with you based on the amount of use and your lifestyle.  Service is important for wheelchair safety.

Do take more caution in servicing and replacing common parts, such as arm rest joints, safety seat belts, arm rests, leg guards, seat cushions, back support cushions, front wheel assembly and rear wheel.  For motorised wheelchairs, you have to take note of the batteries, joysticks, central processing unit controller and cable, motor assembly etc.  Motorised wheelchairs would require more attention due to more moving parts and mechanism.


Article contributed by:

Cedric Soh,

SeniorCare, Online Elderly Care Retail Store

Dated: October 2016


SeniorCare is the largest online elderly care retail store. We carry adult nutritional meal replacement shakes such as Ensure, Glucerna and Resource, incontinence care and adult diapers, mobility aids, health supplement, toilet and bathroom aids, pressure relief etc. to help better care for your loved ones.



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