How to Carry Things in a Wheelchair

When you have purchased a brand new wheelchair, you will take some time to get used to it. A self-propelled wheelchair takes significant upper body strength to drive forward using the outer wheel rims. Depending on your disability, you may be comfortable using a self-propelled wheelchair or you may purchase a power wheelchair. Of course, you may still buy a manual wheelchair and hire a care giver for driving you around. But it takes away a bit of your freedom and self-sufficiency. Compared to a manual wheelchair, an electric wheelchair does not require any physical exertion. But it requires getting used to the joystick. If you are a new user of an electric wheelchair, I bet you would have found the joystick very sensitive, to start with. Most of the power wheelchairs have a setting which will let you adjust the sensitivity of the joystick.

You generally spend a week or two, getting used to manually operating the wheelchair or operating the joystick. Once you have done that, you would want to expand your frontiers, beyond your backyard or the next block.

How to Carry Things in a Wheelchair

What Would You Want to Carry on Your Wheelchair?

The longer your wheelchair ride gets, the larger your trip supplies start getting – things  that you would want to carry on your wheelchair. You would need to start thinking about how to carry your supplies along. Very soon you would want to carry a bottle of water along with you, some snacks, a phone battery charger, the day’s newspaper, a laptop, and probably an extra blanket or an umbrella for the unforeseen and unpredictable weather conditions. You may also need to go shopping and carry back the groceries along with you. You should, however, keep in mind that the more weight you add to your wheelchair, the less mileage you will end up getting from your batteries.

Carrying Specialized Equipment

Often you may want to carry specialized items along with you, like:

  • You may not be completely immobile and can move around with a walking cane or crutches. You can get crutch holders which you can securely clamp on to the side or back of your wheelchair and place the case or crutch onto the holder, while your wheelchair is in motion.
  • Due to specific disabilities, many wheelchair users need to carry an oxygen cylinder. This can be carried on a strong bag strapped to the back of your wheelchair, due to the heavy weight of the cylinder.

Options to Carry Stuff Around in Manual vs Electric Wheelchair

Compared to a self-propelled wheelchair, you have much more options of carrying your stuff around in a power wheelchair. On the power wheelchair, you may use a backpack carrier tied to the hand railing behind the head rest. You may decide to carry your belongings in a bag which can also be tied to the wheelchair armrest, in case the number of items are less. You can also carry your belongings in a bag and place it under your seat on the wheelchair. Most electric wheelchairs would invariably have a pouch under the seat.

On a manual wheelchair, however, your carrying options are much more limited. Manual wheelchairs do not have the carrying pouch under the seat. You will also not be able to tie a sufficiently large bag to the arm rest of the wheelchair, because it will fall over the wheels and interfere with your ability to manually propel the outer tire rims. Therefore, in this type of wheelchair, it is only possible to carry your belongings in a backpack type bag, tied to the hand railing behind your back. You may still carry some items in a small bag strapped down from your arm rest, however, it will mostly not be sufficient for all your needs.

You should also be cognizant of the fact, that if you are carrying your stuff in a bag which is strapped to the back of the wheelchair or placed under the seat, you would not be able to access the items while you are on the wheelchair. If you have a care giver, you will be able to access the items though her, but then, if your care giver is travelling along with you, you are, most likely, not going too far. On the other hand, you will easily be able to access the items which may be placed in a bag strapped to your armrest.

Buying a Bag vs Making One Yourself

Wheelchairs come in different shapes and sizes, and you may be in a spot if the bag that you bought does not go with your wheelchair. For example, your arm rest side bag can be too long and may be dangling over the wheels of your manual wheelchair, not letting you comfortably propel the wheels in the process. Therefore, it is often a good idea to make your own bag. If you have the resources, you should go ahead by all means and make a bag which is closely tailored to your wheelchair. For example, say you have a power wheelchair and you operate right-handed. So, you would fix the joystick on the right arm rest. Now, if you want to carry your spectacles, a newspaper and a mobile charger in a small bag tied to your armrest, you will most likely have to strap the bag on your left arm rest, as otherwise, the bag may interfere with the joystick. And this would not serve your purpose if your left hand is mobility challenged. In this case, instead of buying a standard bag, you may make yourself one which would just the right size to fit alongside your joystick and let you comfortably access the items.

Alternatively, if you have a very specialized need like carrying your golf equipment or fishing equipment in your wheelchair, chances are, you will need a highly customized bag or carrier for the same. Finding a ready made item which fits the bill may be difficult and instead, you can make a customized bag to suit your purpose.

How to Choose a Bag for Your Wheelchair

Therefore, from the above, we can easily identify the considerations before buying a bag for carrying things around in the wheelchair:

  • Things you generally carry along in your trip
  • The amount of access that you would need to items in the bag while you are travelling on the wheelchair; For example, you should carry your bottle of water in a bag which is easily accessible; but you may also carry groceries back to your home, in which case you would only need access to them once you reach your destination

Types of Bags or Carriers You May Look to Buy

Once you decide on the two factors above, it is time you decide on the types of bags which will be the most useful for you. The following are few types of bags available to carry items along in a wheelchair.

  • Wheelchair backpack bag: If you are carrying a lot of items or few heavy items and do not need access to them before you reach your destination, you can buy a wheelchair backpack bag and strap it on to the back of your wheelchair on the handles behind your backrest.
  • Armrest pouches: Armrest pouches, which often come with fleece for extra padding for your arms and elbows, can be wrapped around your armrests and secured with Velcro to provide convenient storage spaces.
  • Armrest saddle bags: Armrest saddle bags generally have pockets on both sides of the bag and can be saddled on the arm rest and secured with Velcro on the back of the bag. These generally have more storage than armrest pouches. You should ensure that it does not fall over your wheels and interfere with your manual propelling movements.
  • Crutch holder: A crutch holder is generally clamped on to the side of the armrest in front of the tires or to the back of the wheelchair. Take care to ensure that the crutch does not interfere with your view of the road or your hand movements to propel the wheelchair
  • Oxygen Cylinder holder: Oxygen cylinders are heavy and require sturdy bags to carry them on wheelchair. Specialized cylinder carrier are available to strap on to the back of the wheelchair, such that you may be able to access the oxygen mask and apparatus while still on the wheelchair seat.
  • Bottle or Cup holder: While your bag may have a bottle holder, you may also attach a bottle or cup holder separately to the arm rest of your wheelchair. Remember to attach the cup holder securely with your wheelchair to prevent spilling during movement.
  • Grocery sack: The best way to carry back grocery from the market is to securely fasten the grocery bag and place the bag on the pouch under the seat. If your grocery sack has straps, it can also be attached to the back of your seat as, however, if it is reasonable heavy it may move the center of gravity of your wheelchair towards the back.

You should always ensure to have anti-tipper wheels to increase the stability of your wheelchair and prevent a situation of accidentally tipping over backwards, while carrying heavier weights.

Conclusion

It is normal that you need a few of the above type of bags to suit your different needs and mostly you would be using more than one at the same time. But you should bear in mind that being judicious with what to carry in your wheelchair is always helpful – as more weight will either drain your battery faster or drain your energy faster, depending on whether you are on a manual or a power wheelchair.

Prosenjit has extensive experience in clean energy financing, banking and data science. He is driven by making an impact on lives through data powered decision making. He is passionate about working at the cross section of healthcare and data science and has deployed machine learning models in hospitals as decision support systems, which have the capability of automatically identifying patients with COVID-19 from X-ray and CT-Scan images. He believes that machine learning can be utilized to significantly improve and automate senior care. By education, he has completed his MBA and B. Tech. in Computer Science and Engineering.

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